The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

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

the obelisk best of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

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

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

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

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

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

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

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

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

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

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

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

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

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

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

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

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

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

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

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

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

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

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

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

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

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

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

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

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

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

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

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

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

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

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

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

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

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

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

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

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

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

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

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

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

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

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

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

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

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

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

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

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

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

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

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

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

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

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

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

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

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

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

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

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

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

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

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

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

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

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

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

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

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

Postwax

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2020

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Lord Dying Announce Live Lineup; European Tour Starts Oct. 14

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

lord dying

What do you do after you release one of the year’s most lauded metal records and crisscross the country promoting it? Well, you go to Europe, silly. So it is that Portland, Oregon, progressive metallers Lord Dying follow-up their late Spring jaunt across the US with a European run set to begin next month that includes stops at Into the Void, Desertfest Belgium, Dudefest, Darkhorse Festival and Damnation Festival heralding the formidable scope of Mysterium Tremendum (review here), their third album overall and debut release for eOne Heavy. Because that’s what you do.

It’s their first trip abroad since they toured with Voivod and Entombed AD in Europe circa 2016, following the willful aural gruel that was 2015’s Poisoned Altars (review here), and founding guitarists Chris Evans and Erik Olson — the latter also vocals — will welcome a new live lineup aboard as they go. The lucky rhythm section is comprised of bassist Alyssa Maucere (also Glory in the Shadows) and drummer Kevin Swartz (also Tithe and Serial Hawk), and the shows will begin Oct. 14, following Lord Dying‘s appearance at Northwest Hesh Fest this weekend, where they’ll be joined by original drummer Jonathan Reid (now also Glory in the Shadows, formerly also Megaton Leviathan) as a special one-off.

All sounds pretty badass, right? It is. Lord Dying are having that kind of year, much aided by the killer album. Funny how that kind of thing works.

Here are the tour dates:

lord dying euro tour

Lord Dying – Euro Tour

This tour is to promote the new record, “Mysterium Tremendrum”, put out only a few months back (on eOneHeavy). This EU tour is shared with the excellent and heavy-trippin Earth Ship (Berlin, DE), who will be LD’s main support throughout (*Earth Ship not playing)

Lord Dying will also be playing INTO THE VOID FESTIVAL leeuwarden, 18.10 , DESERTFEST* BELGIUM Antwerp 20.10, DUDEFEST Karlsruhe 31.10, DARKHORSE FESTIVAL Paris 01.11, and DAMNATION FESTIVAL* Leeds 02.11!

NorthWest Hesh Fest in Portland OR is this weekend and Lord Dying asked the original drummer Jon Reid to come back to do a ONE-TIME ONLY classic LD set, blasting out several bangers from their first record, “Summon The Faithless” and their following, “Poisoned Altars”. Jon is also drummer in Glory In The Shadows.

Lord Dying EU Tour with Earth Ship –
14-10 CH Bellinzona @ The Pit
15-10 DE Munich @ Backstage
16-10 DE Wiesbaden @ Schlachthof
17-10 DE Bochum @ Trompete
18-10 NL Leeuwarden @ Into The Void
20-10 BE Antwerp @ Desertfest*
22-10 ES Barcelona @ Sala Rocksound
23-10 ES Bilbao @ La Nube
24-10 CH Martigny @ Sunset Bar
25-10 DE Cologne @ MTC
26-10 DE Lubeck @ Treibsand
28-10 CZ Prague @ Club Fatal
29-10 DE Berlin @ Zukunft
31-10 DE Karlsruhe @ Dudefest
01-11 FR Paris @ Darkhorse Festival – Espace B
02-11 UK Leeds @ Damnation Festival*
03-11 UK Glasgow @ Audio
05-11 UK London @ New Cross In

https://www.facebook.com/LordDying/
http://instagram.com/lorddying
http://lorddying.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/eOneHeavy

Lord Dying, Mysterium Tremendum (2019)

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Quarterly Review: Salem’s Bend, Motorpsycho, Sigils, Lord Dying, Sunn O))), Crimson Heat, Molior Superum, Moros, Glitter Wizard, Gourd

Posted in Reviews on July 2nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

Today is Tuesday, I’m pretty sure, and hey, that’s nifty. I thought yesterday kicked off the Summer 2019 Quarterly Review really well, and any time I get through one of these without my head caving in on itself, I feel like that’s a victory, so yeah. Now we wade even deeper into what will ultimately be a 60-review plunge, with another 10 offerings of various stripes and takes on heavy. Some higher profile stuff in here, which is fine, I guess, but most of it is pretty recent, so if there’s something you haven’t heard yet, I hope you find something you dig, as always.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Salem’s Bend, Supercluster

salems bend supercluster

This is the sound of a band who’ve figured it out. Salem’s Bend have taken retroist boogie and modern tonalism, production and melody and turned it into something of their own. Supercluster (on Ripple) follows the Los Angeles trio of guitarist/vocalist Bobby Parker, bassist/vocalist Kevin Schofield and drummer Zach Huling‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here), and with an uptick in the complexity of songwriting overall and particularly in the arrangements of dual-vocals, it is a marked step forward palpable as much in the hook of “Ride the Night” — and if you’re gonna call a song that, you better bring it — as the heavy crash ending “Heavenly Manna” and the languid, lucidly dreaming groove in “Infinite Horizon,” which appears ahead of the acoustic hidden track “Beltaine Chant.” That won’t be the last time these guys unplug, but whether it’s the raw Zeppelin vibe of “Show Me the Witch” or the crunching low-end nod of “Thinking Evil” or the leadoff thrust in “Spaceduster,” the message is clear that Salem’s Bend have arrived.

Salem’s Bend on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music webstore

 

Motorpsycho, The Crucible

motorpsycho the crucible

The latest in Motorpsycho‘s nigh-on-impossible-to-chart and ever-growing discography is The Crucible, issued through Stickman Records, and taking some of the heavy rock push of 2017’s The Tower (review here) and stretching out to more willfully progressive execution across three increasingly extended tracks. Running from shortest to longest, the album begins with “Psychotzar” (8:44) which resolves itself in maddening turns after fleshing through an energetic beginning, and rounds out side A with the 11-minute “Lux Aeterna,” with vocal harmonies and mellotron building into a graceful swell of volume before a headspinner solo and jam take hold, break to near-silence and finish in a burst of directly earliest-King Crimson majesty. This all before the 20:51, side B-consuming title-track crashes in with immediate tension and plays back and forth at releasing that through a course that is rife with melody and an emphasis on the mastery of Motorpsycho over their sound and direction. Onto the list of the year’s best records it goes.

Motorpsycho on Thee Facebooks

Stickman Records website

 

Sigils, You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves

Sigils You Built the Altar You Lit the Leaves

Hypnotic and immersive heavy post-rock and metal becomes the genre tag well enough, but what New York’s Sigils do on their markedly impressive self-recorded, self-released debut album, You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves, is more soulful and emotive than “post-” anything generally conveys. With four tracks/38 minutes best taken as a whole, single listening experience, the band offer resonant depths of tone and vocal echoes centered around airy but still weighted guitar and consuming rhythms brought to bear with the patience of an organic Jesu. The ultimate triumph is in the melody and payoff of 13-plus-minute closer “The Wicked, the Cloaked,” which seems to manifest the haunting sensibility that “Samhain” and “Ritual” advocate on side A, but neither will I discount the chug of the prior “Faceless” or the underlying churn in those two leadoff tracks. Especially as a first album, You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves casts a sonic identity for itself that is striking and sees the band already beginning to push themselves forward. One hopes they continue to do so.

Sigils on Thee Facebooks

Sigils on Bandcamp

 

Lord Dying, Mysterium Tremendum

Lord Dying Mysterium Tremendum

Following 2015’s Poisoned Altars (review here), subsequent years of touring and a jump from Relapse to eOne Metal, Lord Dying‘s Mysterium Tremendum is enough of a stylistic melting pot that the best thing to do is call it progressive and just let it roll. Comprised of 11 tracks themed around death and the afterlife, the record takes the Portland, Oregon, outfit’s prior death-doom ways and expands them to incorporate an array of styles and melodies, like a vocoder-less Cynic or even Atheist, but more focused on the songs themselves. It’s being widely hailed as one of 2019’s best metal releases, and honestly I can’t speak to that because who the hell knows what “metal” even means, but it sees Lord Dying pull off a major sonic leap and if this is the direction they’re headed from now on, then I guess “metal” is going to be whatever the hell they want. So there. Expect to see a lot of Lord Dying t-shirts around in the years to come.

Lord Dying on Thee Facebooks

eOne Heavy on Thee Facebooks

 

Sunn O))), Life Metal

sunn life metal

The core of Sunn O)))‘s sound — that is, the drone-riffed tonality of Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley, has proven amorphous enough over the last two decades to either be orchestral, minimalist, impossibly bleak, or now, something brighter. The Steve Albini-recorded Life Metal is one of two purported Sunn O))) releases slated for this year, and it follows behind 2015’s Kannon (review here) in manifesting their project in a new way. It is 68 minutes long, comprised of four tracks — the first, “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths,” is notable for the inclusion of vocals from Hildur Guðnadóttir; the rest is instrumental — and while one wonders how much is the power of suggestion amid their colorful artwork and titular presentation, “life” as opposed to death metal, etc., their resonance throughout “Aurora” (19:07) and “Novae” (25:24) strips away much of the flourish that has engulfed Sunn O))) in their post-maturity years and reminds of the power at their center. They chose the right producer.

Sunn O))) on Bandcamp

Southern Lord Recordings website

 

Crimson Heat, Crimson Heat

Crimson Heat Crimson Heat

With a handful of tracks of dirt-coated Sabbathian doom rock, Crimson Heat make their debut with a self-titled demo/EP in no small part defined by its lack of pretense. I’d buy the tape at the show. You’d buy the tape at the show. The download is free. Clearly this is a band figuring out what they want to do and trying to catch a few ears, but the sound is right on. Notable as well for the participation of Sam Marsh of Sinister Haze, tracks like “At My Door” blend Tee Pee Records-style skate vibes with darker traditionalist crunch, and the subsequent acoustic interlude “Firewood” indeed adds a bit of burning-stove smell to the procession ahead of doomed shuffler finale “Deep Red.” They might be new, but from the nod of “Premonition” and the double-layered guitar of “Fortune Teller,” they very clearly know where they’re coming from. What they do with that from here will tell the tale, but for now, selling the tape at the show isn’t nothing. Guess they better get on pressing some up.

Sinister Haze on Thee Facebooks

Crimson Heat on Bandcamp

 

Molior Superum, As Time Slowly Passes By…

Molior Superum As Time Slowly Passes By

The boogie runs strong in Molior Superum‘s first album in seven years, As Time Slowly Passes By… (on H42 Records), the title of which might just hint at the distance between their two full-lengths. Their debut was Into the Sun (discussed here) in 2012, and they answered that with 2014’s Electric Escapism (review here), but for a band who sound so energized on cuts like “Att Födas Rostig” and “Through Valleys of Wonder,” the time differential from one record to the next is curious. Still, no question the Swedish four-piece make the most of the 36 minutes they present on their sophomore offering, realizing classic vibes and fuzz tones through modern production that recalls the likes of GraveyardJeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus and even, on “Into the Grey,” Demon Head‘s doomier fare, with an overarching bluesy sensibility that remains exciting even in moments like the hypnotic midsection build of centerpiece “Divinity Blues.” Even the closing soft-guitar title-track has movement. They sound hungry in a way that suggests maybe it won’t be another seven years before a third LP arrives.

Molior Superum on Thee Facebooks

H42 Records

 

Moros, Weapon

moros weapon

Just because Philly is leading the Eastern Seaboard in terms of psychedelic charge, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the guttersludge extremity of a unit like Moros. The destructive three-piece’s first full-length, Weapon (on Hidden Deity Records), is vicious in its bite and downright nasty in its groove, abrasive from the static intro “(Vortexwound)” onward through “We Don’t Deserve Death” and “Devil Worshipper,” which recalls slower Napalm Death in its riff but is met with a harsh scream as well as shouts. The brutality continues through “Wizard of Loneliness” and into the outright pummel of “Death Nebula,” such that the locked-in nodder groove in the second half of “Every Day is Worse Than the Last” feels almost like a lifeboat, though there’s little salvation on offer in the closing title-track, which fades out on a noisy note in much the same way it faded in. Filthy, mean and heavy. The crust is real and it is thick.

Moros on Thee Facebooks

Hidden Deity Records website

 

Glitter Wizard, Opera Villains

glitter wizard opera villains

I was enticed to dig further into Glitter Wizard‘s Opera Villains (on Heavy Psych Sounds) by the recent video for opener “A Spell So Evil” (posted here), and it’s not a choice I regret. The San Fran-based weirdo collective are putting on a show, no doubt, but the quality of their songwriting on “The Toxic Lady” and the punkish underpinning of “Dead Man’s Wax,” etc., puts them in a classic rocking no man’s land in which they absolutely revel. The laser-strewn drama of “March of the Red Cloaks” and the organ- and flute-laced swing of “Hall of the Oyster King” embrace the grandiose in brazen fashion, and thereby make it that much easier for the listener to join them on this wavelength that is so thoroughly their own. Closer “Warm Blood” taps prog-of-old pomposity in its largesse while the earlier “Fear of the Dark” seems to do the same thing with just an acoustic guitar and some vocal harmonies. A record that knew exactly what it wanted to be and then became that thing. Awesome.

Glitter Wizard on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Gourd, Moldering Aberrations

gourd moldering aberrations

Ambient darkness is inflicted with only the cruelest of spirit throughout Gourd‘s Moldering Aberrations EP, the Irish two-piece alternating minimalist spaciousness with gurgling drone intensity, the extremity of which doesn’t so much come through in pummel or drive, but in the swell of volume and its contrast with the emptiness surrounding. Also the growls. Three tracks are offered up like monuments to pain, and through “Befoulment,” “Mycelium” and the title-track, they conjure a heft of atmosphere as much as one of low end, the claustrophobic feeling of their craft coming through even in the relatively peaceful opening of the last song. That peace, of course, isn’t so much moment of respite as it is precursor to the next plunge, and either way, Gourd work in grueling fashion over 23 minutes to dismantle consciousness and expectation with a grim, distortion-fueled chaos from which there seems to be no escape, until the rumble and noise leave “Moldering Aberrations” and there’s just residual hum and a cymbal crash left. Madness.

Gourd on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Monk Records on Bandcamp

 

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Desertfest Belgium 2019: Church of Misery, Monkey3, Inter Arma, Lord Dying and Lucy in Blue Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 12th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

desertfest belgium 2019 banner

I saw Church of Misery last year and in case you’re wondering, yes, they’re still a damn good time. They’ll join the sub-headliner ranks of Desertfest Belgium 2019 this Fall in the company of Monkey3Inter ArmaLord Dying and Lucy in Blue, each band representing a different side of what it means to be heavy, from Lord Dying‘s born-again-melodic metal to Inter Arma‘s crush-of-death and Lucy in Blue‘s formative meandering prog rock. Desertfest Belgium wasn’t short on variety before — you got Ty Segall and Bongripper on the same bill, that’s fair enough — but this batch of five only adds to it, and you know, there’s still Sleep headlining. If you need a sure bet, that’s a good way to make one.

Still more announcements to come from the Antwerp-based Desertfest franchise, so keep an eye out. They always seem to manage a few surprises before they’re done.

To the PR wire:

desertfest belgium 2019 new poster

CHURCH OF MISERY at Desertfest Antwerp ’19! Lord Dying, Inter Arma & More

And so again it’s time to reveal another batch of deep cuts for the Desertfest Antwerp festival. First up: Church Of Misery! After their blistering set at our festival two years ago, we knew they would be back sooner or later. Their legacy in doom history is unmatched, and after several turnovers it seems this is the Church’s strongest line-up yet.

Lord Dying and Inter Arma are two of the most adventurous metal bands in the field right now, and we’re delighted you to present them at DFBE’19. Both have just released a new album, and each one boldly defies categorisation. Lord Dying finds new pathways in metal through progrock. Inter Arma has always been fiercely experimental going from strength to strength, always finding new ingredients to add to their melting pot of psych drone and sludge doom. Both come heavily recommended, and both are going to slay you all.

Monkey3 may follow a different path to musical enlightenment, but there are many ways to blow your mind. A psychedelic rock band at the absolute top of their game, just ask anyone who witnessed the headfuck that was their show at this year’s Desertfest Berlin. And finally, for those who want a trip back to the time when Crimson was King, the delicious quirky grooves of Icelandic prog jesters Lucy In Blue will do just that!

This should tide you over until our next batch, and maybe some news in between… stay tuned!

http://www.desertfest.be/tickets
https://www.facebook.com/desertfestbelgium/
https://www.facebook.com/events/2260579413999993/

Church of Misery, Live at the Echoplex, Los Angeles, June 3, 2019

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Lord Dying to Release Mysterium Tremendum April 26

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

lord dying

I’m curious what’s in store for Lord Dying‘s new album, the title of which has been newly revealed as Mysterium Tremendum. And that seems fitting enough, what with the ‘big mystery’ alluded to in the title, but we’ll find out this Spring when the Portland, Oregon, extremists make their debut on eOne with the aforementioned LP. This news just came in, and I’m not currently in a place where I can hear the new track “Envy the End” that you’ll find at the bottom of this post, but rest assured I’ll be putting it on as soon as I’m able — i.e., when I’m back in the car or back home — to check it out, because for a band this unfriendly sounding to put out a record that will be so widely distributed doesn’t happen all the time. Not that one song will necessarily tell the whole tale, but it’s more to go on than I’ve currently got. And the cover art’s nifty too.

That and all the rest came from the PR wire:

Lord Dying Mysterium Tremendum

LORD DYING: Portland Metal Unit To Release Mysterium Tremendum Full-Length April 26th Via Entertainment One; New Track Streaming + Preorders Available

Portland heavy metal unit LORD DYING will release their anticipated third studio album Mysterium Tremendum worldwide on April 26th via Entertainment One (eOne).

Captured at Los Angeles’ West Valley Recording Studios in August of 2018 with engineer Mike Plotnikoff (Fear Factory, In Flames) and mastered by Howie Weinberg (Slayer, Nirvana, Pantera, Red Hot Chili Peppers), Mysterium Tremendum is a monolithic, riff-heavy concept album boasting eleven heaving tracks examining the many facets of dying and what may or may not exist in the afterlife.

An emotionally satisfying record, lyrically and musically Mysterium Tremendum’s exploration of death goes beyond the mere longing for it in order to see what lies beyond (“Lacerated Psyche” is about the death of Evans’ sister). There are many layers to it – you might even find parallels between the record’s concept and life itself. It’s a journey. And in their quest to pursue death, LORD DYING has themselves found new life.

LORD DYING’s Mysterium Tremendum will be released on CD, double LP, and digital formats. For preorder options go to smarturl.it/LordDyingMT.

Mysterium Tremendum Track Listing:
1. Envy The End
2. Tearing At The Fabric Of Consciousness
3. Nearing The End Of The Curling Worm
4. The End Of Experience
5. Exploring Inward
6. Severed Forever
7. Even The Darkness Went Away
8. Freed From The Pressures Of Time
9. Lacerated Psyche
10. Split From A World Within/Devoid Of Dreams/Death The Final Loneliness
11. Saying Goodbye To Physical Form

“We set out to write a record about life, and it ended up being about death,” says LORD DYING guitarist/vocalist Erik Olson about the band’s third studio album Mysterium Tremendum.

While the new record centers around death, it focuses more on what awaits us on the other side while also exploring our culture’s fear of dying, and the struggles with our own mortality. The ideas for the concept have been kicking around for some time, but it’s fitting that they’re only now coming to fruition.

At the core of these Portland, Oregon, heavy metal titans is Olson and guitarist Chris Evans, who’ve been making music together since fifth grade. They formed LORD DYING before they had a name or a record when another Portland powerhouse Red Fang beckoned them to open some shows for them in 2010. Two records and countless live performances – including tours with Voivod and Crowbar – followed.

Mysterium Tremendum is the record Olson and Evans have wanted to make since the band’s inception. It’s easily LORD DYING’s most musically diverse album, but one that could only be made following the band’s jackhammer 2013 debut Summon The Faithless, and 2015’s brooding Poisoned Altars. “It’s more along the lines of what we wanted to do early on,” says Evans.

LORD DYING was already beginning to expand its musical palette – including moodier interludes and Olson’s expanded vocal range – but Olson says once the decision was made to make a concept record, he and Evans pushed themselves to match the themes musically and vocally. You’ll hear it in songs like “The End Of Experience” and the floating “Severed Forever,” which sees Olson melodically doubling his vocals before returning to his trademark growl. Shorter interludes like “Tearing The Fabric Of Consciousness” and “Even The Darkness Went Away” are stunning and fragile, like nothing the band has ever done.

Olson and Evans worked tirelessly on the songs together over the course of a year-and-a-half, using programmed drum parts, and sending ideas back and forth. As Olson puts it, “It was the first time we were really able to put things under a microscope.” The songs were all but ready by the time they headed to Los Angeles’ West Valley Recording Studios in August of 2018 with engineer Mike Plotnikoff. L.A.-based bassist Matt Price and drummer Chase Manhattan jumped right in to bring these songs of death to life, and the results are huge and seamless.

https://www.facebook.com/LordDying/
http://lorddying.bandcamp.com/
https://twitter.com/eoneheavy
https://www.facebook.com/eOneHeavy

Lord Dying, “Envy the End”

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Lord Dying Sign to eOne; New Album Due in 2019

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Please don’t get me wrong, Lord Dying are a cool-ass band, and their last album, 2015’s Poisoned Altars (review here), was pretty much brilliant in its oppressive and doomed extremity, but isn’t that precisely why this is kind of a surprise? I mean, sure, Crowbar and High on Fire and others on the eOne roster are heavy, but aren’t Lord Dying just that extra touch more brutal? They seemed right at home on Relapse, touring their asses off as always, and reaching more people than ever. I don’t know the dudes at all, so maybe the change isn’t as sudden as it seems at all, but I was kind of taken aback to see the announcement come through the PR wire. I guess I just thought Lord Dying were a more vicious-sounding band than a label like eOne would seek out. Credit to both label and band that I was mistaken in that supposition, I guess.

Bottom line: right on. No one can say Lord Dying didn’t earn what they’ve got.

Here’s what the label had to say about it:

lord dying

ENTERTAINMENT ONE SIGNS LORD DYING

BAND TO BEGIN RECORDING NEW LP DUE OUT NEXT YEAR

Entertainment One (eOne) has signed Portland, Oregon’s LORD DYING to a worldwide deal with plans to release an all-new LP next year. Hailing from a region of the country that’s abundant with purveyors of the heavy riff, both parties are eager to get started.

“We are very excited to announce our signing with eOne,” says guitarist and vocalist Erik Olson. “We’re in good company here with the likes of Crowbar, High on Fire and Black Fast.”

LORD DYING will head into the studio next week with producer/engineer Mike Plotnikoff (Fear Factory/In Flames) at West Valley Recording Studios.

“We’re excited to start working on our third album with Mike. We’ve been working tirelessly the last couple years on this album and in some ways, it’s one Chris and I have wanted to make for the last 15+ years.”

The new, yet to be titled LP will serve as the follow up to Poisoned Altars released in 2015.

https://www.facebook.com/LordDying/
http://lorddying.bandcamp.com/
https://twitter.com/eoneheavy
https://www.facebook.com/eOneHeavy

Lord Dying, “A Wound Outside of Time” official video

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Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3: Two-Day SXSW Event Lineup Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 14th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

The formidable likes of PentagramWeedeaterBongzillaBlack CobraKings DestroyLo-Pan, Mondo DragVenomous MaximusToday is the Day and many more will take part in Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3 this March in Austin, Texas, as part of SXSW. A two-day event clustered in the madness that is the Texan capitol that week, Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3 is set for March 18 and 19 at The Lost Well, just north of 7th St., and far enough off 6th that if you happen to be in town for SXSW, it’s an easily-enough justified walk (stumble) by the righteousness of those on the bill. You might as well just camp outside the venue to be sure you get back there on the second day.

Or, you know, fall asleep in the gutter, because that’s kind of how it goes at SXSW, or at least it was the last time I was there. Though you can’t deny the wide reach of Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3 in bringing in its headliners from around the Midwest and East and West Coasts, it’s worth pointing out the particular attention paid to supporting local acts, among them Texan outfits like Venomous Maximus — who reportedly have a new album coming this year — as well as BanquetSweat LodgeDestroyer of LightFrom Beyond and so on. Cheers to American Icon Presents for making sure all sides are represented.

Lineup follows here, in case you’d like to drool or book a flight or book me a flight, you know, whatever:

heavy metal parking lot 3 poster

HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT 3

Day 1 -Fri Mar 18
WEEDEATER ( Exclusive Performance )
BONGZILLA
Kings Destroy
Black Cobra
Author and Punisher
Today is the Day
Lord Dying
Lo Pan
Against the Grain
Widower
Slurr
Thunderkief

Day 2 – Sat Mar 19
PENTAGRAM ( Exclusive Performance)
Mondo Drag
Venomous Maximus
Sweat Lodge
The Blood Royale
Tower
Sabbath Crow

SPECIAL GUESTS
Destroyer of Light
Banquet
From Beyond
Greenbeard

Day 1 and Day 2 tickets Purchased Separately
Sponsored by American Icon Records (A.I.R)

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/heavy-metal-parking-lot-3-day-1-weedeater-bongzilla-tickets-20491750377
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/heavy-metal-parking-lot-3-day-2-pentagram-tickets-19813562900
https://www.facebook.com/events/430113890521968/
https://www.facebook.com/AmericanIconpresents/
https://www.facebook.com/AmericanIconRecords/

Pentagram, “When the Screams Come” live at A.I.R. Expo

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Hoverfest 2015 Lineup Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 18th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Can’t say it’s much of a surprise, but the lineup for Hoverfest 2015 looks pretty awesome. The second installment of the annual fest brought together by Hovercraft Amps, Cravedog and Nanotear is set for an all-dayer Aug. 8 in Portland, Oregon, and like last year, the lineup of acts is made up mostly of locals — there are a few to choose from in Portland these days — and to go with all that hometown spirit, they’ll bring in San Francisco kings of weirdo trad metal Slough Feg to headline.

Slough Feg will sit atop a mighty Portlander grouping, varied between the doomly ways of Witch Mountain, who make a return appearance, a return as well for the ’70s heavy of Danava, Lord Dying‘s don’t-tell-anybody-it’s-death-metal-because-we-like-playing-with-stoner-bands genrebending, Sons of Huns on the heels of their new album, While Sleeping Stay Awake, a second showing from Holy Grove, and first-timers Zirakzigil and Mane of the Cur to lead things off. Sounds like a good time to me.

Last year, Billy Anderson was brought on to work the mixer, and whether or not he’ll make another appearance has yet to be revealed, but the preliminaries are out. With presumably more to come, here they are:

hoverfest 2015

Cravedog Presents HOVERFEST 2015

Cravedog, Hovercraft Amps, and Nanotear Booking have teamed up to bring the second annual HOVERFEST on Saturday 8.8.15 in Portland, OR

The rocks starts at noon and rolls til sundown. Once again set in the alley behind Cravedog with the gorgeous sunset view of the Fremont Bridge. 611 N. Tillamook Street

This year will be 21+ so the whole alley is a beer garden.

Rock, metal, and doom all day long from:

SLOUGH FEG
WITCH MOUNTAIN
DANAVA
LORD DYING
SONS OF HUNS
HOLY GROVE
ZIRAKZIGIL
MANE OF THE CUR

Tickets go on sale Friday 6.19 at 10am PST.
www.brownpapertickets.com

https://www.facebook.com/events/1106747122671942/
www.cravedog.com
www.hovercraftamps.com
www.nanotear.com

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