Quarterly Review: Pallbearer, BleakHeart, Pryne, Avi C. Engel, Aktopasa, Guenna, Slow Green Thing, Ten Ton Slug, Magic Fig, Scorched Oak

Posted in Reviews on May 17th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

By the time today is through — come hell or high water! — we will be at the halfway point of this two-week Quarterly Review. It hasn’t been difficult so far, though there are ups and downs always and I don’t think I’m giving away secrets when I tell you that in listening to 50 records some are going to be better than others.

Truth is that even outside the 100 LPs, EPs, etc., I have slated, there’s still a ton more. Even in something so massive, there’s an element of picking and choosing what goes in. Curation is the nice word for it, though it’s not quite that creatif in my head. Either way, I hope you’ve found something that connects this week. If not yet, then today. If not today, then maybe next week. As I’m prone to say on Fridays, we’re back at it on Monday.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Pallbearer, Mind Burns Alive

pallbearer mind burns alive

While I won’t take away from the rawer energy and longing put into their earlier work, maturity suits Pallbearer. The Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece of vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell, guitarist/backing vocalist Devin Holt, bassist/synthesist/backing vocalist Joseph D. Rowland and drummer Mark Lierly have passed their 15th anniversary between 2020’s Forgotten Days (review here) and the self-recorded six tracks of Mind Burns Alive, and they sound poised harnessing new breadth and melodic clarity. They’ve talked about the album being stripped down, and maybe that’s true to some degree in the engrossing-anyhow opener “When the Light Fades,” but there’s still room for sax on the 10-minute “Endless Place,” and the quieter stretches of the penultimate “Daybreak” highlight harmonized vocals before the bass-weighted riff sweeps in after the three-minute mark. Campbell has never sounded stronger or more confident as a singer, and he’s able to carry the likewise subdued intro to “Signals” with apparent sincerity and style alike. The title-track flashes brighter hopes in its later guitar solo leads, but they hold both their most wistful drift and their most crushing plod for closer “With Disease,” because five records and countless tours (with more to come) later, Pallbearer very clearly know what the fuck they’re doing. I hope having their own studio leads to further exploration from here.

Pallbearer on Facebook

Nuclear Blast website

BleakHeart, Silver Pulse

Bleakheart silver pulse

With its six pieces arranged so that side A works from its longest track to its shortest and side B mirrors by going shortest to longest, Denver‘s BleakHeart seem to prioritize immersion on their second full-length, Silver Pulse, as “All Hearts Desire” unfolds fluidly across nearly eight minutes, swelling to an initial lumbering roll that evaporates as they move into the more spacious verse and build back up around the vocals of Kiki GaNun (also synth) and Kelly Schilling (also bass, keys and more synth). Emotional resonance plays at least as much of a role throughout as the tonal weight intermittently wrought by JP Damron and Mark Chronister‘s guitars, and with Joshua Quinones on drums giving structure and movement to the meditations of “Where I’m Disease” before leaving the subsequent “Let Go” to its progression through piano, drone and a sit-in from a string quartet that leads directly into “Weeping Willow,” the spaces feel big and open but never let the listener get any more lost in them than is intended. This is the first LP from the five-piece incarnation of BleakHeart, which came together in 2022, and the balance of lushness and intensity as “Weeping Willow” hits its culmination and recedes into the subdued outset of “Falling Softly” and the doomed payoff that follows bodes well, but don’t take that as undercutting what’s already being accomplished here.

BleakHeart on Facebook

Seeing Red Records website

Pryne, Gargantuan

PRYNE Gargantuan

Austria’s Pryne — also stylized all-caps: PRYNE — threaten to derail their first album before it’s even really started with the angular midsection breakdown of “Can-‘Ka No Rey,” but that the opener holds its course and even brings that mosher riff back at the end is indicative of the boldness with which they bring together the progressive ends of metal and heavy rock throughout the 10-song/46-minute offering, soaring in the solo ahead of the slowdown in “Ramification,” giving the audience 49 seconds to catch its breath after that initial salvo with “Hollow Sea” before “Abordan” resumes the varied onslaught with due punch, shove and twist, building tension in the verse and releasing in the melodic chorus in a way that feels informed by turn-of-the-century metal but seeming to nod at Type O Negative in the first half bridge of “Cymboshia” and refusing flat-out to do any one thing for too long. Plotted and complex even as “The Terrible End of the Yogi” slams out its crescendo before the Baronessy verse of “Plaguebearer” moves toward a stately gang shout and squibbly guitar tremolo, they roll out “Enola” as a more straight-ahead realignment before the drone interlude “Shapeless Forms” bursts into the double-kick-underscored thrash of closer “Elder Things,” riding its massive groove to an expectedly driving end. You never quite know what’s coming next within the songs, but the overarching sense of movement becomes a uniting factor that serves the material well regardless of the aggression level in any given stretch.

Pryne on Facebook

Pryne on Bandcamp

Avi C. Engel, Too Many Souls

avi c engel too many souls

Backed by looped percussive ticks and pops and the cello-esque melody of the gudok, Toronto experimental singer-songwriter Avi C. Engel is poised as they ask in the lyrics of “Breadcrumb Dance,” “How many gods used to run this place/Threw up their hands, went into real estate” near the center of the seven-song Too Many Souls LP. Never let it be said there wasn’t room for humor in melancholy. Engel isn’t new to exploring folkish intimacy in various contexts, and Too Many Souls feels all the more personal even in “Wooly Mammoth” or second cut “Ladybird, What’s Wrong?” which gets underway on its casual semi-ramble with the line, “One by one I watch them piss into the sun,” for the grounded perspective at root. An ongoing thread of introspection and Engel‘s voice at the center draw the songs together as these stories are told in metaphor — birds return in the album’s second half with “The Oven Bird’s Song” but there’s enough heart poured in that it doesn’t need to be leaned into as a theme — and before it moves into its dreamstate drone still with the acoustic guitar beneath, “Without Any Eyes” brings through its own kind of apex in Engel‘s layered delivery. Topped with a part-backmasked take on the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” that’s unfortunately left as an instrumental, Too Many Souls finds Engel continuing their journey of craft with its own songs as companions for each other and the artist behind them.

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Somnimage website

Aktopasa, Ultrawest

aktopasa ultrawest

The 13-minute single “Ultrawest” follows behind Aktopasa‘s late-2022 Argonauta Records debut, Journey to the Pink Planet (review here), and was reportedly composed to feature in a documentary of the same name about the reshaping of post-industrial towns in Colorado. It is duly spacious in its slow, linear, instrumentalist progression. The Venice, Italy, three-piece of guitarist Lorenzo Barutta, bassist Silvio Tozzato and drummer Marco Sebastiano Alessi are fluid as they maintain the spirit of the jam that likely birthed the song’s floating atmospherics, but there’s a plan at work as well as they bring the piece to fruition, with Alessi subtly growing more urgent around 10 minutes in to mark the shift into an ending that never quite bursts out and isn’t trying to, but feels like resolution just the same. A quick, hypnotic showcase of the heavy psychedelic promise the debut held, “Ultrawest” makes it easy to look forward to whatever might come next for them.

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Aktopasa on Bandcamp

Guenna, Peak of Jin’Arrah

Guenna Peak of Jin Arrah

Right onto the list of 2024’s best debuts goes Guenna‘s Peak of Jin’Arrah, specifically for the nuance and range the young Swedish foursome bring to their center in heavy progressive fuzz riffing. One might look at a title like “Bongsai” or “Weedwacker” (video premiered here) and imagine played-to-genre stoner fare, but Guenna‘s take is more ambitious, as emphasized in the flute brought to “Bongsai” at the outset and the proclivity toward three-part harmonies that’s unveiled more in the nine-minute “Dimension X,” which follows. The folk influence toward which that flute hints comes forward on the mostly-acoustic closer “Guenna’s Lullaby,” which takes hold after the skronk-accompanied, full-bore push that caps “Wizery,” but by that point the context for such shifts has been smoothly laid out as being part of an encompassing and thoughtful songwriting process that in less capable hands would leave “Ordric Major” disjointed and likely overly aggressive. Even as they make room for the guest lead vocals of Elin Pålsson on “Dark Descent,” Guenna walk these balances smoothly and confidently, and if you don’t believe there’s a generational shift happening right now — at this very moment — in Scandinavia, Peak of Jin’Arrah stands ready to convince you otherwise. There’s a lot of work between here and there, but Guenna hold the potential to be a significant voice in that next-gen emergence.

Guenna on Facebook

The Sign Records website

Slow Green Thing, Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse

Slow Green Thing Wetterwarte Waltherstrasse

The interplay of stoner-metal tonal density and languid vocal melody in “I Thought I Would Not” sets an atmospheric mood for Slow Green Thing on their fourth LP, Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse, which the Dresden-based four-piece seem to have recorded in two sessions between 2020 and 2022. That span of time might account for some of the scope between the songs as “Thousand Deaths” holds out a hand into the void staring back at it and the subsequent “Whispering Voices” answers the proggy wash and fuzzed soloing of “Tombstones in My Eyes” with roll and meditative float alike, but I honestly don’t know what was recorded when and there’s no real lack of cohesion within the aural mists being conjured or the heft residing within it, so take that as you will. It’s perhaps less of a challenge to put temporal considerations aside since Slow Green Thing seem so at home in the flow that plays out across Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse‘s six songs and 44 minutes, remaining in control despite veering into more aggressive passages and basing so much of what they do on entrancing and otherworldly vibe. And while the general superficialities of thickened tones and soundscaping, ‘gaze-type singing and nod will be familiar, the use made of them by Slow Green Thing offers a richer and deeper experience revealed and affirmed on repeat listens.

Slow Green Thing on Facebook

Slow Green Thing on Bandcamp

Ten Ton Slug, Colossal Oppressor

TEN TON SLUG COLOSSAL OPPRESSOR

Don’t expect a lot of trickery in Ten Ton Slug‘s awaited first full-length record, Colossal Oppressor, which delivers its metallic sludge pummel with due transparency of purpose. That is to say, the Galway, Ireland, trio aren’t fucking around. Enough so that Bolt Thrower‘s Karl Willetts shows up on a couple of songs. Varied but largely growled or screamed vocals answer the furious chug and thud of “Balor,” and while “Ghosts of the Ooze” later on answers back to the brief acoustic parts bookending opener “The Ooze” ahead of “Mallacht an tSloda” arriving like a sledgehammer only to unfold its darkened thrash and nine-plus-minute closer “Mogore the Unkind” making good on its initial threat with the mosh-ready riffing in its second half, there’s no pretense in those or any of the other turns Colossal Oppressor makes, and there doesn’t need to be when the songs are so refreshingly crushing. These guys have been around for over a decade already, so it’s not a surprise necessarily to find them so committed to this punishing mission, but the cathartic bloodletting resonates regardless. Not for everyone, very much for some on the more extreme end of heavy.

Ten Ton Slug on Facebook

Ten Ton Slug on Bandcamp

Magic Fig, Magic Fig

magic fig magic fig

Don’t let the outward Beatles-bouncing pop-psych friendly-acid traditionalism of “Goodbye Suzy” lull you into thinking San Francisco psych rockers Magic Fig‘s self-titled debut is solely concerned with vintage aesthetics. While accessible even in the organ-and-synth prog flourish of “PS1” — the keyboards alone seeming to span generations — and the more foreboding current of low end under the shuffle and soft vocals of “Obliteration,” the six-song/28-minute LP is no less effective in the rising cosmic expanse that builds into “Labyrinth” than the circa-’67 orange-sun lysergic folk-rock that rolls out from there — that darker edge comes back around, briefly, in a stop around the two-minute mark; it’s hard to know which side is imagining the other, but “Labyrinth” is no less fun for that — and “Distant Dream,” which follows, is duly transcendent and fluid. Given additional character via the Mellotron and birdsong-inclusive meditation that ends it and the album as a whole, “Departure” nonetheless feels intentional in its subtly synthy acoustic-and-voice folkish strum, and its intricacy highlights a reach one hopes Magic Fig will continue to nurture.

Magic Fig on Facebook

Silver Current Records on Bandcamp

Scorched Oak, Perception

Perception by Scorched Oak

If you followed along with Dortmund, Germany’s Scorched Oak on their 2020 debut, Withering Earth (review here), as that album dug into classic heavy rock as a means of longer-form explorations, some of what they present in the 39 minutes of Perception might make more sense. There was plenty of dynamic then too in terms of shifts in rhythm and atmosphere, and certainly second-LP pieces like “Mirrors” and “Relief” come at least in part from a similar foundation — I’d say the same of the crescendo verse of “Oracle” near the finish — but the reportedly-recorded-live newer offering finds the band making a striking delve into harder and more metallic impacts on the whole. An interplay of gruff — gurgling, almost — and soulful melodic vocals is laid out as opener/longest track (immediate points) “Delusion” resolves the brooding toms of its verse with post-metal surges. Perhaps it’s obvious enough that it doesn’t need to be said, but Scorched Oak aren’t residing in a single feel or progression throughout, and the intensity and urgency of “Reflection” land with a directness that the closing “Oracle” complements in its outward spread. The element of surprise makes Perception feel somewhat like a second debut, but that they pull off such an impression is in itself a noteworthy achievement, never mind how much less predictable it makes them or the significant magnitude of these songs.

Scorched Oak on Facebook

Scorched Oak on Bandcamp

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Mutants of the Monster 2024 Completes Lineup; Rwake, Left Lane Cruiser & Cancerslug Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 2nd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

I guess at some point between the first announcement and now, Spirit Adrift and Fistula dropped off the lineup for Mutants of the Monster 2024, but fair enough for Cancerslug and Left Lane Cruiser to sign on and Little Rock, Arkansas, hometown post-sludge heroes Rwake — whose frontman Chris “CT” Terry is behind the fest — to make a return appearance along with a slew of others from the Southeast US and beyond. Anytime Deadbird show up just about anywhere, it’s notable, never mind tour-buddies Weedeater and Telekinetic Yeti stopping through or John Garcia doing a solo set that pretty much guarantees everyone in attendance will be able to go home saying they watched him do Kyuss‘ “Whitewater” in person.

Also known as Mutants Fest for short, the three-dayer is set for May 16-18 in North Little Rock, and looks like a good, intermittently harsh time. The PR wire brought the final lineup and ticket links so you still have some time to get your travel plans together:

mutants of the monster 2024 poster

MUTANTS OF THE MONSTER FEST 2024 Reveals Final Lineup, Announces Special Sale for National Concert Week

Featuring John Garcia (Formerly of Kyuss), Weedeater, Telekinetic Yeti, Rebelmatic, Cancerslug (Just added), Deadbird, Rwake (Just added!), Flummox + more!

Taking place in North Little Rock, AR at the Argenta Community Theater and Four Quarter Bar from May 16-18!

Get passes here: https://www.lastchancerecords.com/

MUTANTS OF THE MONSTER FEST will return in 2024 to Little Rock, AR from May 16-18! The multi-day festival will take place in the Argenta Arts District and has revealed the final lineup, which now includes the new additions of CANCERSLUG and RWAKE. The full lineup can be found below!

In honor of National Concert Week, the festival is now offering a special discount on tickets and passes that will run until this Tuesday, May 7 @ 11:59 P.M. EDT. Currently, fans can score single day tickets for Friday and Saturday for only $20 while a full festival pass is temporarily discounted at $95! Passes are now available HERE and will cover both stages for all three days of the event.

The full lineup is as follows:

JOHN GARCIA (Formerly of Kyuss playing all of the hits!)
WEEDEATER
DEADBIRD
TELEKINETIC YETI
DEEPSTARIA ENIGMATICA
MEDICINE HORSE
ADAM FAUCETT
REBELMATIC
FLUMMOX
WHETHER
SEAHAG
OROROR
CRANKBAIT
MAMMOTH CARAVAN
SPORTS
DIREWOLF
RWAKE
CANCERSLUG

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https://www.instagram.com/mutantsofthemonsterfest/
https://www.lastchancerecords.com/

Rwake, Live at Mutants of the Monster 2022

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Pallbearer to Release Mind Burns Alive May 17; “Where the Light Fades” Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 20th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

PALLBEARER (photo by Dan Almasy)

No real getting around Pallbearer‘s fifth LP, Mind Burns Alive — announced today with a May 17 release date as their second album for Nuclear Blast behind 2020’s Forgotten Days (review here) — as one of the biggest doom releases of the year. The Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece now in their 16th year have done more to modernize the emotive doom melancholia fostered by the likes of AnathemaMoonspell, maybe even on some level their now-labelmates My Dying Bride — for whose new album Mind Burns Alive should make a fitting complement — for the subsequent generation, and as the first single and lead track “Where the Light Fades” shows, their own maturity as a group has only brought more poise and soul to their approach. Plus they tour. Hard. Regularly.

They’ll do so again for Mind Burns Alive, of course, and after co-headlining a Euro run with Elder in 2022, Pallbearer have lined up support from REZN, The KeeningRwake and Inter Arma — not everybody all at once; calm down — for back-t0-back stints on the East and West Coasts. Dates, preorders, more about the record, the cover art, the tour poster, the ticket link for when they go on sale and of course the “Where the Light Fades” video all follow here, and I celebrate the PR wire for doing so much heavy lifting. If and when you start the clip, give it some time to build up. They get there, and the melodic path being explored is part of the point. Not the first time in Pallbearer‘s arc that they’ve rewarded the patience of their audience, by any means.

Have at it:

pallbearer mind burns alive

PALLBEARER’S ACHINGLY BEAUTIFUL NEW ALBUM, MIND BURNS ALIVE, ARRIVES MAY 17 VIA NUCLEAR BLAST RECORDS

PRE-ORDERS AVAILABLE NOW: https://pallbearer.bfan.link/mind-burns-alive.ema

WATCH THE “WHERE THE LIGHT FADES” VIDEO HERE

EXTENSIVE NORTH AMERICAN TOUR ANNOUNCED; TICKETS ON-SALE THIS FRIDAY

Pallbearer, indisputable masters of emotionally insightful and stirring heavy music, return with their most raw and heartfelt album to date: Mind Burns Alive (May 17, Nuclear Blast Records).

“These songs are a deeper exploration of dynamics and sonic color than anything we have done up to this point,” vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell explains, shedding light on the band’s decision to strip everything back on the forthcoming nearly hour-long album. “I’m of the belief that true heaviness comes from emotional weight, and sometimes sheer bludgeoning isn’t the right approach to getting a feeling across.”

A preview of Mind Burns Alive arrives today with the release of “Where The Light Fades” and its Dan Almasy-directed video. Lyrically, the song eludes to what are the overall themes on the six-song album, as Campbell describes the tracks as “vignettes that tell the stories of people who deal with myriad sicknesses of the spirit… illnesses communicated by the world we live in, and the subjects are the symptoms of the disease.”

Five years in the making, with recording initially slated for 2020, and thwarted yet again in 2022, it was 2023 that saw the band members living locally to one another in Little Rock for the first time in nine years. As a group, they self-produced the album in their own, newly constructed studio (Idlewild Audio) and at Fellowship Hall Sound. Reflecting on this, bassist/vocalist Joseph D. Rowland remarked, “It’s ironic given that the album is largely centered around isolation, but it felt like it summoned us into being back together again in one town, after so long apart.”

Album pre-orders, which include limited-edition vinyl, CD and digital, are available now: https://pallbearer.bfan.link/mind-burns-alive.ema.

The band has simultaneously announced their most extensive North American tour since 2018, dubbed the “Temporary Spaces North American Tour,” the six-week trek launches on June 6. Tickets are on-sale this Friday at 10 am local time. Openers include Rwake (June 6 to 9; 29), REZN (June 11 to 29), Inter Arma (July 11 to August 3), with The Keening opening on all dates. Visit Pallbearerdoom.com for ticket links.

Pallbearer headlines the opening night of Stumpfest X on April 11 at Mississippi Studios in Portland, Ore.. The band has also confirmed two special European performances: The Copenhell Metal Cruise (Copenhagen to Oslo) from Oct. 25 to 27, and Nov. 16 at Helldorado in Eindhoven (The Netherlands). More European dates will be announced soon.

Mind Burns Alive tracklist:
1. Where The Light Fades
2. Mind Burns Alive
3. Signals
4. Endless Place
5. Daybreak
6. With Disease

pallbearer tour“Temporary Spaces North American Tour”:
June 6 Memphis, TN Growlers *
June 7 Murfreesboro, TN Hop Springs *
June 8 Birmingham, AL Zydeco *
June 9 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade *
June 11 Durham, NC The Fruit #
June 12 Asheville, NC Euology at Burial Beer Co. #
June 14 Baltimore, MD Metro Gallery #
June 15 Lancaster, PA Tellus360 #
June 16 Philadelphia, PA Underground Arts #
June 18 Hamden, CT Space Ballroom #
June 20 Brooklyn, NY Music Hall of Williamsburg #
June 21 Boston, MA The Sinclair #
June 22 Montreal, QC Theatre Fairmount #
June 23 Toronto, ON Velvet Underground #
June 25 Milwaukee, WI Vivarium #
June 26 Chicago, IL Thalia Hall #
June 27 St. Paul, MN Turf Club #
June 28 Lawrence, KS The Bottleneck #
June 29 Little Rock, AR The Hall &
July 11 St. Louis, MO Off Broadway ^
July 13 Denver, CO Gothic Theatre ^
July 15 Calgary, AB Dickens ^
July 16 Edmonton, AB The Starlite Room ^
July 18 Vancouver, BC Rickshaw Theatre ^
July 19 Seattle, WA Substation ^
July 23 Sacramento, CA The Starlet Room ^
July 24 San Francisco, CA Great American Music Hall ^
July 26 Santa Cruz, CA The Catalyst ^
July 27 San Diego, CA Brick By Brick ^
July 28 Los Angeles, CA Teragram Ballroom ^
July 29 Phoenix, AZ Crescent Ballroom ^
July 30 Albuquerque, NM Sister Bar ^
August 1 Dallas, TX Trees ^
August 2 Austin, TX Parish ^
August 3 Houston, TX White Oak Music Hall ^
*-w/Rwake & The Keening
# – w/REZN & The Keening
& – w/Rwake, REZN & The Keening
^ – w/Inter Arma & The Keening

Pallbearer is Brett Campbell (vocals/electric guitar/synthesizer), Devin Holt (electric and acoustic guitar/vocals), Mark Lierly (drums/percussion) and Joseph D. Rowland (vocals/bass guitar/synthesizer).

https://www.facebook.com/pallbearerdoom
https://instagram.com/pallbearerdoom/
http://Pallbearerdoom.com

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http://www.nuclearblast.com

Pallbearer, “Where the Light Fades” official video

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Mutants of the Monster 2024 Makes First Lineup Announcement

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 11th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Shit, man. Anybody got a line on a crash spot in Little Rock? Mutants of the Monster Fest — or if you’re on friendly terms you can go with Mutants Fest, like on the poster — has announced its initial lineup for May 16-18, with John Garcia as the first headliner. I’m not sure if it’s a solo show or with the full backing as John Garcia and the Band of Gold, but as noted below he’ll be doing Kyuss songs in addition to his own stuff and if the universe aligns just so, you might even get a track from the catalogs of Slo Burn, Unida or Hermano, the latter of whom have reissues out on Ripple now.

But Garcia is just the start and down the line through Weedeater and Telekinetic Yeti (tour partners again?), Spirit AdriftDeadbirdFistulaRebelmaticFlummoxMedicine HorseSeahag and Adam Faucett, and the sense of curation remains strong. Mammoth Caravan will have a new record out by the time they play, and they might not be the only ones, but even if everyone showed up with nothing on the merch table (highly unlikely), it’d still be a riotous bill and there’s more to come since, you know, three days and all that.

Tickets are available through Last Chance Records as linked below. I’ll do my best to keep up are more names are added to Mutants of the Monster 2024. Here’s how the PR wire put it:

mutants of the monster 2024 poster

MUTANTS OF THE MONSTER FEST 2024 Reveals First Wave of Bands; Incl. John Garcia (ex-Kyuss), Weedeater, Telekinetic Yeti, Spirit Adrift + More!

Taking place in North Little Rock, AR at the Argenta Community Theater and Four Quarter Bar from May 16-18!

GET EARLY BIRD TICKETS HERE: https://www.lastchancerecords.com/

MUTANTS OF THE MONSTER FEST will return in 2024 to Little Rock, AR from May 16-18! The multi-day festival will take place in the Argenta Arts District and has revealed the first wave of bands, which is as follows:

JOHN GARCIA (Formerly of Kyuss playing all of the hits!)
WEEDEATER
SPIRIT ADRIFT
FISTULA
DEADBIRD
TELEKINETIC YETI
DEEPSTARIA ENIGMATICA
MEDICINE HORSE
ADAM FAUCETT
REBELMATIC
FLUMMOX
WHETHER
SEAHAG
OROROR
CRANKBAIT
MAMMOTH CARAVAN
SPORTS
DIREWOLF

Early bird tickets are now available HERE starting today through Monday, December 11. The pass will cover both stages for all three days of the event.

More bands will be announced soon – stay tuned!

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100057305925445
https://www.instagram.com/mutantsofthemonsterfest/
https://www.lastchancerecords.com/

John Garcia, “Whitewater” (Kyuss) live at Desertfest New York 2022

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Mammoth Caravan Premiere “Petroglyphs” Video; Ice Cold Oblivion out Feb. 25

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on January 17th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Mammoth Caravan (Photo by Kurt Lunsford)

Little Rock, Arkansas-based sludge rollers Mammoth Caravan are set to issue their debut full-length, Ice Cold Oblivion, on Feb. 25. The album is the three-piece’s first release outside of a limited CD/tape Demo 2022 that featured the songs “Ice Cold Oblivion” and “Nomad,” which clearly they wound up pretty fond of since they open the album here in succession. Fair enough, particularly as the Monolordian buzz that grows so massive past the initial temporal displacement of effects looping in the title-track to act as a kind of welcome to the proceedings as a whole. With Evan Swift on guitar, Brandon Ringo on bass and vocals and Robert Warner drumming, Mammoth Caravan demonstrate immediately they know where they’re coming from, finding ground between the dug-in low-and-slow riffing of Crowbar and some of Egypt‘s bluesier rasp vocally — though Ringo changes it up to a cleaner style in the title-cut and later as well on “Periglacial,” and “Nomad” layers higher shouts over deathly growling, which also features in “Petroglyphs” (premiering below) so it’s not one thing or the other, either — as they instrumentally convey a largesse to suit the narrative of their moniker in the lyrics of the record about, wait for it, a caravan of mammoths.

Presented across two vinyl sides of three songs each, the 38 minutes of Ice Cold Oblivion make their primary impression in lumber, heft, and march. They’ve been compared to Eyehategod — 30 years later, if you play slow and scream at all, someone’s still gonna say you sound like Eyehategod; this is a thing about which I have surprisingly strong feelings — but that doesn’t account either for their more metal aspects throughout or the drifting mellow guitar that bookends “Petroglyphs,” so while it may be a case ofMammoth Caravan Ice Cold Oblivion those hearing the record trying to lump the band into a category where they don’t fit as neatly as some others might, in this case ‘sludge metal,’ it’s ultimately to the trio’s credit that even on their first offering they’re able to look outside microgenre and work in aspects of different heavy styles. They’re not about to start playing polka in 10-minute closer “Frostbite,” which grows plenty massive and encompassing enough in its final slowdown to be a worthy finish to all the pleistocene plod and snare bite cutting through, but neither should they be mistaken for being completely unipolar. As the philosopher Daniel Tiger reminds us: “you can be more than one thing.” And so they are, even as much as the consuming lurch of Ice Cold Oblivion is the backdrop against which those other elements play out.

They are, then, encouragingly malleable in their songwriting and the general quotient of nastiness on display at any given time. “Ice Cold Oblivion” and “Frostbite” do a bit of worldmaking as longer songs first and last, but the converted should have no trouble nodding along as “Petroglyphs” shifts after its quiet opening to harsh buzz and growls, tense and slow, then slower, then faster, then churning, then out on that same guitar figure that introduced it. Mammoth Caravan aren’t so much flying in the face of convention as choosing which versions of it they want to take for their own. This attitude and direction will serve them well as they move forward from here, but there’s something to be said for Ice Cold Oblivion‘s rawest moments as well, be it the sheer riff worship in the instrumental “Megafauna” or “Periglacial” daring toward Primitive Man-style ultradoom before changing to the aforementioned clean vocals en route to the fadeout of guitar and bass that leave the drums that started it. One way or the other, they effectively bring to life a sound like nature trying to kill early humans, and really, seeing how it all turned out, who could blame it for trying?

Below you’ll find the video for “Petroglyphs,” which is wonderfully DIY at the playground, kid finds an eyeball, and so on. It’s the third single from Ice Cold Oblivion behind “Frostbite” and “Nomad” — though obviously the demo of the title-track is streaming as well — and begins to show the flora growing alongside all that crushing fauna in the epoch in which the band here reside. To make it as plain as I can: it is very heavy. You can’t say you weren’t told in advance.

Enjoy:

Mammoth Caravan, “Petroglyphs” video premiere

Video shot and edited by Machete Eddy.

Sludge/Doom Metal trio MAMMOTH CARAVAN will release debut/concept album Ice Cold Oblivion February 25, 2023 on CD, digital, cassette, and vinyl formats.

Ice Cold Oblivion was recorded, mixed and mastered by Jason Tedford at Wolfman Studios.

Pre-order: http://mammothcaravan.bandcamp.com/album/ice-cold-oblivion

Track Listing:
1. Ice Cold Oblivion
2. Nomad (feat. Mat Johnson)
3. Petroglyphs
4. Megafauna
5. Periglacial
6. Frostbite

Line-Up:

Brandon Ringo – Bass/Vocals
Evan Swift – Guitar
Robert Warner – Drums

Mammoth Caravan, Ice Cold Oblivion (2023)

Mammoth Caravan on Facebook

Mammoth Caravan on Instagram

Mammoth Caravan on Spotify

Mammoth Caravan on Bandcamp

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Jeff Morgan of Rwake, Deadbird, and More

Posted in Questionnaire on November 29th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

Jeff Morgan Rwake Deadbird

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: Jeff Morgan of Rwake, Deadbird, The Lights Inside the Woods, Madman Morgan, The Ominous Warning, Ash of Cedars

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

As far as musically, I search the cosmic depths for paths that lead me to melodies and rhythms that I can manifest into this universe. Then I take those sounds and build them into music that can hopefully take others to the same place.
I started this journey in my early teens with the tools I learned from my parents, who were both heavily immersed in metaphysics at that time.

Describe your first musical memory.

Hard to pinpoint the actual “first”, but one of the earliest is when my biological father was blasting Marty Robbins “Don’t Worry About Me” and was in my face yelling at me about how cool the distorted bass sounded on the huge home stereo we had. I was probably four or five years old. I later found out it’s actually a lap steel, not a bass.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

When Rwake played Maryland Deathfest in 2012, we played “Was Only a Dream” off of Rest. During the last section, I felt the whole crowd come together as one and almost everyone in the room were all of one mind for several minutes. It was a very magic moment for sure.

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

Having kids really tested my belief that my sole purpose in life was to create and play music on a full time scale. It was very hard at first to stop touring and stay home with the family. Over time I have learned how to balance my commitment to being a super-dad with my obsession to create and perform gloomy music.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

For me, the progression leads to a lifetime’s worth of massive volumes of music that will mostly be undiscovered til my eventual death.

For the world, the progression is so rapid and awe-inspiring, it’s hard to even imagine where It will lead. Every day I hear new music that exceeds what I thought possible. That’s the beauty of art.

How do you define success?

Musically, I define success by the amount of pride I feel when I listen to the musical projects I’m involved with. Also, I am constantly humbled by all the love for the music I’ve been a part of, and I cherish all the friendships made along the way.

Personally I define success by the smiles on my kids’ faces, and watching them grow up. When my family is happy, I’m happy.

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

When Rwake was a young new band, we thought it would be a good idea to bring a bloated dead possum to the show and cook it in an electric skillet during our set. I wish I would have never seen all the bugs running out of it when I dumped it out of the trash bag into the skillet.

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

I’m in the process of creating a live full band version of a gloomy dark acoustic project that I have called The Lights Inside the Woods. I’ve always wanted to be a part of something more quiet and clean, yet still dark and trance inducing. I can’t wait to see how it progresses.

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

Communication. Sharing the results of the quest together. Art is all about the ritual for me. It’s is an endless quest to find the deepest darkest unheard energies and give them a voice.

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

We are returning to Iceland later this month to hike Landmannalaugar in the Highlands. Iceland is such a magical place and I can’t wait to return.

https://www.facebook.com/RwakeBand
https://rwake.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Deadbird1332
https://deadbirddoom.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/thelightsinsidethewoods/
https://lightsinsidethewoods.bandcamp.com/

Rwake, Rest (2011)

Deadbird, “Alexandria”

The Lights Inside the Woods, II (2019)

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Friday Full-Length: Rwake, If You Walk Before You Crawl, You Crawl Before You Die

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 11th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

A band who don’t get enough credit. Rwake released the cumbersome-but-righteously-titled If You Walk Before You Crawl, You Crawl Before You Die in 2004 through At a Loss Recordings. Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, the six-piece outfit — six of ’em! — traveled to Chicago in March of that year to record for six days with Sanford Parker, who also mixed (John Brearley is credited with engineering as well; Alan Douches mastered), and what they went home with remains these 18 years later both monstrous and unlike nearly anything else that was coming out at the time. With discernable influences from the likes of Neurosis and Buzzov*en, two singers in Christopher “CT” Terry and Brittany “B” Fugate (the latter also Moog), and a sound that both was and was not in league with the then-nascent movement of post-metal, they were able to bring together atmosphere and impact in a way that few acts of the style before or since have.

From the seven-minute opener “Dying Spiral Galaxies” — hell of a place to start — through the double-whammy titular finale of “If You Walk Before You Crawl” and “You Crawl Before You Die,” Rwake harnessed a creative scope that could either be the screamed poetry over acoustic guitar and distorted bass of “Sleep and Forget Forever” or the deceptively methodical onslaught of volume that was “Embedded,” and even listening to it now, you never quite know where the next turn is headed until it gets there. It is likewise gross and beautiful.

Comprised of FugateTerry (also of Iron Tongue), guitarists Kris “Gravy” Graves and Kiffin Rogers, bassist Reid Raley (who played with The Obsessed from circa 2013-2019) and drummer Jeff Morgan (also bass/vocals in the undervalued Deadbird), if Rwake‘s output wasn’t the product of multiple songwriters, it was at least informed by multiple personalities somewhere along the way. If You Walk Before You Crawl, You Crawl Before You Die was their third full-length, preceded by 1999’s Absence Due to Projection and 2002’s Hell is a Door to the Sun, and it took the avant sludginess of those offerings to a new level, remaining cohesive even at its most unhinged and noisiest — looking at you, “Woodson Lateral” — resulting in a powerful combination of control and chaos.

Concurrent to releases like Neurosis‘ The Eye of Every StormIsis‘ PanopticonCult of Luna‘s Salvation and Mouth of the Architect‘s Time and Withering, among others, it was a piece of an expanding aesthetic Rwake If You Walk Before You Crawl You Crawl Before You Diepuzzle, yet it stood out even among peers and offered depth in a way that was organically its own. And while a lot of those bands used similar elements, be it synth, or effective layering of guitar, loud/quiet trades and malleable tempos, etc., Rwake tapped into a more vicious gnash when they wanted to — the first time I saw Fugate live was SXSW around the time of this release; she was hunched over at the front of the stage and I couldn’t even see her at first for the rest of the crowd in front of me, just heard that rasp, and when she stood up, a jolt of electricity went through the room; what a scream — and their songs seemed to take special delight in shirking the rules of microgenre even as those were still being defined.

Laced with samples throughout in a way that was very much emblematic of Southern sludge at the time — the album begins with some conservative or other worrying about the deleterious effects of rock and roll on the mind, ambient screams and acoustic guitar behind, before the requisite volume kick actually launches “Dying Spiral Galaxies” — If You Walk Before You Crawl, You Crawl Before You Die is still head-spinning in its complexity, and offers multiple paths to its audience. If you put it on and follow the guitar, you’ll get an offering of ace riffs front to back, peppered through with stretches of acoustic and more subdued fare, be it “Intro” ahead of “Sleep and Forget Forever” or “If You Walk Before You Crawl” itself.

Concentrate on the vocals and you’ll hear arrangements of marked reach in conveying emotion as well as raw ferocity, an abiding mournfulness that only feels more relevant now and a disaffection that seemed to be speaking to its own experience of the place it was from — lest we forget, CT produced the documentary Slow Southern Steel in 2010 — further evidenced by moments like the sample at the start and in the second half of “Woodson Lateral,” the warning of people living in the woods and on the road of the same name through Pulaski County, where Little Rock is located. Follow the bass and you’re consumed entirely. Follow the drums and it’s damn near jazz, at least intermittently.

There is, in other words, a lot to be heard if you’re willing to engage Rwake on their own wavelength, which given the extremity of purpose around which their work always was/has been based, not everyone can or is willing to do. Fair enough. An outlier position suits them well on If You Walk Before You Crawl, You Crawl Before You Die, with its closer “You Crawl Before You Die” nearly hitting the 10-minute mark and finding the band at their most dug-in as they make their way to the noise-drenched, mania-screaming, torn-apart-until-only-feedback-is-left finale; like they had a strategic reserve of scathe just waiting to be busted out at the right time.

Maybe part of why their work remains underrated is because they never quite fit in one niche or another, though they signed to Relapse for 2007’s Voices of Omens and 2011’s Rest (review here) — also a 2015 reissue of their 1998 demo Xenoglossalgia (The Last Stage of Awareness) — so they were certainly in good company despite all that pesky doing-their-own-thing that made them harder to categorize. That same ethic, along with the sense of punishment and downerism that so much of it conveys, is also why If You Walk Before You Crawl, You Crawl Before You Die holds up so well. If it was ahead of its time then, and maybe it was, it still kind of feels that way now. You’ll note the version above is from an 8-track tape edition from Texas-based Dead Media Tapes. And that feels about right,l. On its face and under the surface, it’s just pervasively, definitively weird. And weird is fucking awesome.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

I was going to close out last week with this record, but was both out of my mind in pain from my knee — I tore my meniscus at the start of October and there have been good days and bad since — and short on time. If anyone noticed the lack of a Friday Full-Length, no one said anything, and I did extra shares on social media for Bandcamp Friday, so whatever. I remain convinced that I give the biggest crap about that kind of thing anyhow, so it’s on me. Fine. Sometimes you need a day of just six posts on the site. Ha.

I had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee — they marked it with a pen and everything; “YES” in purple letters so they knew to do the left — yesterday afternoon, and could immediately move better. I was given a piece of paper with stretches and exercises to do three times a day, which I did last night before bed with a due amount of discomfort. But the mental difference of productive, healing pain instead of just ongoing injury pain is huge, and this morning I could bend my knee when I sat down on the couch to begin writing, which feels like a novelty even tight as my knee is. It’s been weeks since I could do that. Painkillers don’t hurt either, as it were.

The timing is good, because in 10 days, The Pecan, The Patient Mrs. and I fly to Mexico for the wedding of a couple who are good friends of long standing, and one imagines that will require walking in addition to the air travel. I don’t know that I’ll be running laps by then, but sore as I am now, I feel better than I did. On the mend, as it were. I am fortunate that my wife as a professor at a public university is on a state health insurance plan, or I’d probably never be able to have it fixed. The economic realities of medicine in this country are horrifying and infuriating. Universal healthcare now. Shit, universal healthcare 40 years ago. Alas, everybody’s got their money to make. Don’t get me started.

But I’m lucky I’ll spend hopefully as much time as I can stand not standing (I seem to have lost my ability to sit still during the day) this weekend dedicated to actively healing, icing, doing those leglifts which I hope will become less excruciating, then I have a follow-up next Friday morning with the orthopedist — dude was all-swagger; Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly” was playing on the radio in the OR when they wheeled me in, followed immediately by TLC’s “Scrubs”; surgical equipment kept in a huge black Husky-brand tool chest; this is who you want operating on you — to get the stitches out and see if I’ll need physical therapy. I might. I can feel a shift in muscle mass in my legs as a result of walking funny for a month, and I’m a wuss generally, so I wouldn’t be surprised if even in what for me feels like diligence doing the stretches, I’m not pushing hard enough.

And while we’re talking about follow-ups, I have one on Monday with my neurologist (if you’re interested, more on this adventure here) that’s supposed to be more of a psychiatric thing, I think? I don’t know. Anyway, the doctor was nice and it’s a virtual appointment, so that’s easy enough. The Patient Mrs. will be at work, but I’ll see if I can’t loop her in through Zoom because the wretched truth is I’m not a reliable narrator of my own life. Is anybody? I’m interested to hear what she says, even if the entire process feels somewhat like an indulgence. I do miss swimming, which I haven’t done but once to try it since I hurt my knee.

Gimme show today, 5PM, free to stream on https://gimmemetal.com.

New River Flows Reverse stream on Monday, and Mythosphere, High Noon Kahuna, Captain Caravan/Kaiser and Candlemass are lined up for review after that, so it’s a full week. Expect fewer posts while I’m in Mexico — it’s also Thanksgiving week here in the States, so there’s less going on generally — but I’m sure something will come along that I feel compelled to write about. Never fails, even if I’m on “vacation,” as much as traveling with a five year old after knee surgery can ever actually be that.

In any case, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Have fun, watch your head, hydrate, all that fun stuff. See you back here Monday for more shenanigans.

FRM.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

london-news-etching-1854-newcastle-upon-tyne

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

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

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

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

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

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

ukmedsnorx.com/zopiclone
ukmedsnorx.com/zolpidem

Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

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

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

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

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

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

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

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

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

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

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

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

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

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

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

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

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

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

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

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

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

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2021

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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