The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Quality academic help from professional paper & essay writing help depression. Best team of research writers makes best orders for students. Bulletproof company Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists http://www.swisstunnel.ch/?literature-review-on-social-networking - choose the service, and our experienced scholars will accomplish your task supremely well Start working on your essay 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 Unlike students who have many things to do, professional writers dedicate their time to write essays. How To Write A Essay For A Scholarship from such platforms, 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 Advantages And Disadvantages Of Online Shopping Essay to fit your specific needs at the Master or PhD level. Ultius writers produce high-quality dissertations that include all chapters, from your introduction to your conclusion. Our professional writers understand that dissertations are not ordinary essays. While any old writing service might be able to churn out an essay, this kind of project requires experience, expertise, and attentive dedication to excellence. Our dissertation writers and Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard In this episode, I talk about how to 10 Page Research Paper Example for your non-fiction Kindle book that will cost you less than Uni Essay Writing for All Content Writing Requirements .01 per word. Sample Job Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Welcome to the best essay writing about essay basketball team service Article Critique Sample website of Australia which offers cheap and reliable Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

Of the sundry horrors 2020 wrought, a new album from long-running Toronto three-piece All Rights Can Be Assigned, buy pgce essays, essay writing service cheapest | Complete set of services for students of all levels including academic Sons of Otis was an unexpected positive, and their ultra-spaced, murky riffs on their first studio album since 2012’s Best Homework Help Sites - we use two expert editors. We offer fast and high quality dissertation proofreading at an affordable flat rate. Seismic (review here, also here) launched like a slow-motion escape pod of righteous doom (s)tonality. There will never be another  Child Abuse Researchs. Being a student is not easy at all. This is a hard work as you begin thinking about the future, abilities, interests, dreams, and carrier and at the same time you have to absorb tones of new information in many scientific branches. Modern educational system looks really crazy sometimes, forcing young people to perform enormous amounts of work for a very short period plus 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 Our Business Assignment Writing Experts are available online to help with your Business Assignments. Submit your papers and get Business Law Dissertation Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

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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 (Roadsaw, Sasquatch, 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 BjĂžrnson (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 SandĂžy, 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, EllengĂŠst
Cruthu, AthrĂș 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 SilvÄkra 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 SilvÄkra 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, LantlĂŽs, Brant Bjork, Spiral Grave, Crystal Spiders, Lightning Born, Samavayo, Wovenhand, Merlock, Comet Control, The Age of Truth, Eight Bells, BlackWater Holylight, DVNE, Monte Luna.

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 29th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

ruff majik the devils cattle

[Click play above to stream Ruff Majik’s The Devil’s Cattle in full. Album is out Oct. 30 on Mongrel Records and can be ordered here: https://orcd.co/thedevilscattle]

Well then. With their first offering for new imprint Mongrel Records, The Devil’s Cattle, South African heavy rockers Ruff Majik not only complete a three-albums-in-three-years trilogy, but they do so by working at a completely new level in terms of their craft and composition. Formerly the trio of guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday, bassist Jimmy Glass and drummer Benni Manchino, the lineup has now expanded to a five-piece to include keyboardist/backing vocalist Cowboy Van (also guitar, bass, harmonica on the LP) and guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Evert Snyman, who also produced and mixed the band’s first two full-lengths, 2019’s TĂ„rn (review here) and 2018’s Seasons (review here), and returns to that role here as well.

Perhaps even more crucially, Snyman and Holiday seem to share songwriting duties throughout, and with swaps back and forth in lead vocals like that of “Lead Pills and Thrills,” and shifts in instrumentation between fuzzed-addled guitar, various keys and piano, periodic samples, etc., it’s hard to judge whether The Devil’s Cattle is more brazen in the step forward it takes conceptually or in all-out speed rockers like the opener “All You Need is Speed” — which, suitably enough, begins with tires peeling out — and subsequent thrusters “Heart Like an Alligator,” “Jolly Rodger,” “Who Keeps Score” and “Trading Blows.”

All told, the 13-track offering tops 51 minutes, which is an uptick from TĂ„rn‘s unassuming 36, but Ruff Majik legitimately sound like a band with plenty to say, and as Holiday and Snyman play off each other as creative foils, the dynamic that emerges — as well as some of the tones, rush, arrangements, and Ale and Cake Illustration cover art — recalls Queens of the Stone Age circa Songs for the Deaf, with The Devil’s Cattle benefiting in a similar fashion from the multiple-personalities behind its songwriting. Who’s Oliveri and who’s Homme and who’s Mark Lanegan in all that mix seems to depend on the track — and when they slam into the scream-topped sludge of the seven-minute “Born to be Bile” late in the proceedings (a seeming sequel to “Seasoning the Witch” from the last record), nobody’s anybody — but most important of all is that as Ruff Majik have entered this next stage of growth, they’ve accorded themselves creative freedom to coincide.

Having previously handled all writing on his own, Holiday opening the floor to give any space whatsoever for Snyman for anyone else in that regard is a huge decision in terms of how The Devil’s Cattle plays out, whether it’s early mid-tempo groovers like “Swine Tooth Grin” and “Shrug of the Year” — the dual solos in the back half of which make it a highlight — or the funkified, handclap-inclusive “Gregory,” which precedes the starts, stops, twists, shifts and rolls of the title-track. It does nothing less than to make Ruff Majik a richer, less predictable outfit, and with guests Xan Stewart and Timothy Edwards on drums, Christiaan Van Reenen on keys and Vincent Houde on vocals (for “Born to be Bile”), further personality outside the founding trio is added to the proceedings and the Holiday/Snyman chemistry, which is central here as Glass, Manchino and Van don’t seem to appear on the album.

ruff majik

As regards timing, it’s worth noting that’s not a choice related to pandemic concerns; The Devil’s Cattle was recorded between Sept. 2019 and Feb. 2020, so before any lockdown would’ve come into effect. And what it might portend in terms of future incarnations of the band as a whole, I don’t know, but Holiday and Snyman both handling multi-instrumentalist/vocalist duties certainly works here, with the manic “Go with the Flow”-esque key line behind the shove of centerpiece “Jolly Roger” leading into the back half of the album, backed by the solid hook, strut and run of “Who Keeps Score,” the late break in which likewise stands out in post-Homme fashion, and “Lead Pills and Thrills,” which is a high point in bringing together Snyman and Holiday in a genuine vocal arrangement. Momentum by that point in The Devil’s Cattle is well set and maintained, and “Trading Blows” rounds out a four-songs-under-four-minutes succession with a slowdown and shouts that not only pull forth some of Ruff Majik‘s underlying metal influences, but act as further setup for “Born to be Bile,” a bleak gateway to the final stage of The Devil’s Cattle.

Vocals switch back and forth between Holiday‘s higher register — there are times on the record where he reminds of Axl Rose meeting John Garcia — and what are presumably Houde‘s guest screams, given a kind of gurgling compression effect, and to go with that is a tortured lumbering of the sort that most bands simply wouldn’t dare having spent so much of their time otherwise rocking out. But it’s not necessarily out of character for Ruff Majik, and one way or the other, they’ve clearly decided that The Devil’s Cattle is not a time to hold anything back. That continues to be the case as “Born to be Bile” fulfills its final cacophony and the subdued “God Knows” begins its linear build quietly paying off in equal amounts of fuzz and emotion, and the plod resumes with “Hymn No. 5,” the closing instrumental that’s topped with nothing but samples.

Crushing in a seeming answer to “Born to be Bile,” “Hymn No. 5” is as suitable an ending for The Devil’s Cattle as anything else one might come up with, since it’s unexpected right down to its final march outward, feedback, tom runs and cymbal wash, coming apart like the very opposite of “All You Need is Speed” and seeming all the more intentional for that. It’s hard to know what The Devil’s Cattle might portend in terms of Ruff Majik‘s lineup circumstances, if they’ll keep the five-piece configuration for live performances (and that’s before you get into who-the-hell-knows-when-tours-will-happen) and move forward with Holiday and Snyman along with others in the studio, or what their next LP might bring in terms of sound and development along the lines of songwriting and arrangement. But isn’t that also what makes it so exciting?

At least part of it. Certainly the sheer energy conjured throughout The Devil’s Cattle has a role to play in that regard, but there is something extra satisfying about not knowing where Ruff Majik might go next. That plays out across this collection of songs — and, indeed, often within the songs themselves — and in the bigger-picture sphere of who they are and their aesthetic. And even as they realize the potential of their first two full-lengths in such encompassing fashion, they may yet still just be getting started. It is astonishing to think their first EP only came out five years ago.

Ruff Majik, “Lead Pills and Thrills” official video

Ruff Majik, “Who Keeps Score” official video

Ruff Majik, “All You Need is Speed” lyric video

Ruff Majik website

Ruff Majik on Thee Facebooks

Ruff Majik on Instagram

Mongrel Records website

Mongrel Records on Thee Facebooks

Mongrel Records on Instagram

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Days of Rona: Johni Holiday of Ruff Majik

Posted in Features on May 26th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the varied responses of publics and governments worldwide, and the disruption to lives and livelihoods has reached a scale that is unprecedented. Whatever the month or the month after or the future itself brings, more than one generation will bear the mark of having lived through this time, and art, artists, and those who provide the support system to help uphold them have all been affected.

In continuing the Days of Rona feature, it remains pivotal to give a varied human perspective on these events and these responses. It is important to remind ourselves that whether someone is devastated or untouched, sick or well, we are all thinking, feeling people with lives we want to live again, whatever renewed shape they might take from this point onward. We all have to embrace a new normal. What will that be and how will we get there?

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

Johni Holiday Ruff Majik

Days of Rona: Johni Holiday of Ruff Majik (Lydenburg, South Africa)

How have you been you dealing with this crisis as a band?

Well, none of us have seen each other in about two months, which is a bummer. But we’ve been keeping in contact as much as possible, and planning for when things return to normal.

As an individual?

Got a bit of cabin fever at the start, but circled back around to normal after I started brewing my own liquor (which became essential after our government banned booze).

What effect has it had on your plans or creative processes?

Plan-wise, it wrecked everything -– but that’s okay, we’ll figure it out when we can. Creatively I’d say it’s done us some favours, which you might pick up on in our future releases.

How do you feel about the public response to the outbreak where you are? From the government response to the people around you, what have you seen and heard from others?

Well, it’s a really tough subject in our home country (where we are right now). We have widespread poverty and large parts of the country live in absolutely horrid conditions, so I think everyone is just trying their best to survive. The government did ban alcohol and cigarettes though, which I don’t think is reasonable, but a lot of people will disagree with me on that. All things considered though, I think we’ll pull through.

What do you think of how the music community specifically has responded? How do you feel during this time? Are you inspired? Discouraged? Bored? Any and all of it?

A combination of everything really. I think everyone is being extremely supportive, and the bands are doing their absolute best to stay afloat. We just want to get out there and play again.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything? What is your new normal? What have you learned from this experience, about yourself, your band, or anything?

Well, we haven’t quit yet. We could’ve, ‘cause things have gotten hard around here. But instead of quitting we decided to face the storm head on, release new music, new videos, all that jazz. So yeah, we’d want people to know we’re still here, and we will be for a long time to come.

http://www.ruffmajik.com
http://www.facebook.com/ruffmajik
http://www.instagram.com/ruffmajik
http://mongrelrecords.com
http://www.facebook.com/mongrelrecords
http://www.instagram.com/mongrel_records

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Quarterly Review: High on Fire, Ruff Majik, Merlin, Workshed, E-L-R, Sibyl, Golden Legacy, Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Burden Limbs, El Supremo

Posted in Reviews on October 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Another day, another batch of 10 reviews on the march to 50 by the end of the week. Will we make it? Yeah, probably. I mean, I think there was once when I had to skip a day or something but even then I made up for it and there’s never been an instance where the Quarterly Review fell apart. The one quarter I decided to nix it (was it last year?) I made up for it by doing 100 reviews instead of 50 the next time out, so we got there eventually. It being Tuesday, the end of the week looks far off, but indeed we’ll ge there eventually, and there’s a lot of good music between now and then, so let’s hit it.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

High on Fire, Bat Salad

high on fire bat salad

A limited vinyl EP released as part of Record Store Day 2019, High on Fire‘s Bat Salad comprises three songs: an original instrumental and two covers, one of Celtic Frost and one of Bad Brains. And I won’t take away from the “Rat Salad” Sabbath-does-blues-jazz-jam-except-it’s-HighonFire-so-it-sounds-nasty-as-hell spirit of “Bat Salad” at all, but the real highlight here is hearing Matt Pike‘s gravel-throated vocals take on “Into Crypts of Rays.” Celtic Frost have always been a central factor in what High on Fire were doing stylistically, so to have the band take them on directly seems long in the making. They approach Bad Brains‘ “Don’t Bother Me” with due reverence as well, careening through an intense three-minute burst of energy with the grit and underlying precision one has come to expect from these singular masters. Soon enough, bands will be covering High on Fire with the same spirit of fan homage. Doubly notable for being founding drummer Des Kensel‘s last recorded appearance alongside Pike and bassist Jeff Matz in the band.

High on Fire on Thee Facebooks

eOne Heavy on Thee Facebooks

 

Ruff Majik, TĂ„rn

ruff majik tarn

Guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday, bassist Jimmy Glass and drummer Ben Manchino return with TĂ„rn, Ruff Majik‘s second album on a quick turnaround from their 2018 debut, Seasons (review here). Aligned with Lay Bare Recordings for the vinyl release, the deceptively quick and even more deceptively complex seven-track/36-minute offering finds Ruff Majik digging into dirt-caked tonality and classically punkish sneer in Holiday‘s vocals. There are moments where they sound like Queens of the Stone Age (“Speed Hippie”) and moments where they sound like Black Flag (parts of opener “Schizophrenic”), but as a roller like “Heretically Happy” or the earlier post-Zeppelin stoner sneak of “Gloom & Tomb” show, Ruff Majik are perhaps most interested in sounding like themselves. They’re gleeful as they toy with doomed vibes on closer “Seasoning the Witch,” and the seven-minute “I’ll Dig the Grave” earlier thrills with changes drawn together by a pervasive and righteous groove. With TĂ„rn, Ruff Majik have found their wavelength, and it suits them.

Ruff Majik on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Merlin, The Mortal

merlin the mortal

Be it heretofore established that sax-laced Kansas City psych-doomers Merlin don’t give a fuck. They don’t give a fuck what you expect, they don’t give a fuck what everyone else is doing, they don’t give a fuck if they meme the crap out of their own band. They’ve got their thing and they’re doing it. And you know what? They’re right. The Mortal is their fifth full-length in six years, following as a sequel to early-2018’s The Wizard (review here), and with flourish galore in arrangements of organ, sax, flute, percussion, accordion, trumpet, etc., alongside the foundation of songcraft that comes through the guitar, bass, drums and always-theatrical vocals of Jordan Knorr, the band recount tales along a dark-magical mystery tour of gorgeously flowing and still-weighted psychedelic plunder. They have become a buried treasure of weirdo/geek rock, and whether it’s the peaceful drift of “Ashen Lake” or the cacophonous heavy riffing of “Basilisk,” the stage-setting prog of “Towerfall” or the consuming swell that carries out the apex of closer “The Mortal Suite” — King Crimson chase and all — Merlin‘s work has never sounded so masterful. Will there be a third installment in the tale? Nothing quite like a trilogy.

Merlin on Thee Facebooks

The Company BigCartel store

 

Workshed, Workshed

workshed workshed

They’ve since added a third party in bassist Helen Storer (Fireball Ministry, among others), but Workshed‘s self-titled Rise Above Records debut LP was recorded as the duo of guitarist/vocalist Adam Lehan and drummer Mark Wharton. More than a quarter-century ago, both Lehan and Wharton played on Cathedral‘s pivotal first two albums, but in Workshed, and certainly there are some shades of doom on a stomper like “Anthropophobic” here, but the bulk of Workshed‘s nine-song/47-minute first offering is given to post-Entombed buzzsaw noise sludge, riffs crunched one into the next in an aggro, punk-rooted fashion that rife with a sense of willful punishment that comes through in sheer impact from front to back. Vocals call to mind Tom G. Warrior immediately and are suited to the social commentary of “If This is How it Is” and “This City Has Fallen,” while the grueling march of “A Spirit in Exile” leaves room for some atmosphere to eek through, which it does. They trash out in centerpiece “On Sticks of Wood” and chug their into a last fade on closer “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way,” but by then they’ve long since made their statement and left a trail of destruction behind them. Would they have been signed to Rise Above without the Cathedral connection? Probably not. Does the album earn their place? Absolutely.

Workshed on Thee Facebooks

Rise Above Records website

 

E-L-R, MĂŠnad

e-l-r maenad

With their first full-length, MĂŠnad, Swiss post-metallers E-L-R cart a gorgeous and textured course through patient and progressive songweaving that lends itself to hypnosis through its churning rhythm as much as its overarching melodies seem to evoke other worlds. It is not without its sense of challenge and certainly plenty heavy in its tone and groove — at least where it wants to be — but it’s also rich and provides a level of depth to its mix that should have others in the genre asking how they did it. A transitional drone at the end of “Devotee” brings about the 10-minute “Above the Mountains There is Light” and a long contemplation begins, working from the ground up on a pilgrim’s path to the eventual payoff. The resonance there is something unto itself, but even as “Ambrosia,” “Lunar Nights” and “The Wild Shore” find the stylistic footing that opener “Glancing Limbs” and “Devotee” seemed to hint at earlier, E-L-R maintain both an ambient sprawl and a consuming sense of passion that makes their work here all the more thrilling. This is a debut, following only a single 2018 demo that had two of the same tracks. What that tells me is look out for this band, because this kind of potential doesn’t come along every day and when it does, you want to be there for the follow-up. The impeccable taste of Prophecy Productions pays dividends once again.

E-L-R on Thee Facebooks

Prophecy Productions website

 

Sibyl, The Magic Isn’t Real

sibyl the magic isn't real

Otherworldly doom rock marked by echoing vocals oozing out from deep in the mix and gotta-hear-it bass tone complemented by choice riffage and a fervent thud in the drums, even if the aesthetic of Richmond’s Sibyl is familiar enough, there’s plenty to dig about their debut EP — what one might’ve called a “demo” in eras past — The Magic Isn’t Real. The stylistic elephant in the room is RVA’s own Windhand, but Sibyl take a more psychedelic path to heavy oblivion, and with four tracks in the range of four to five minutes, The Magic Isn’t Real comes across as well focused in its songwriting despite the ethereal touches in the actual sound. Cool vibe, and as they work some noisy shuffle into “Spinning Webs,” they show themselves as being less restricted than otherwise might be the case if they were purely committed to doomed drudgery. I’ll give bonus points as well for naming the penultimate track “Sexpionage,” just on principle, but it’s in stretches like the subdued creeper opening of “Blood Moon” and the engrossing, still-somehow-moving wash of “Pendulums” that Sibyl really showcase their intention.

Sibyl on Thee Facebooks

Sibyl on Bandcamp

 

Golden Legacy, Golden Legacy II

golden legacy golden legacy ii

London heavy noise duo Golden Legacy offer five tracks and 23 minutes of anti-genre, adrenaline rock to follow-up their 2016 self-titled EP. There’s a strong undercurrent of modern punk and indie to their sound, which is what gets them the “anti-genre” consideration, but it’s the energy of their delivery carrying them one way or the other as they drive through the harsh snare of “Cut and Crash” following the chunkier tone of opener “Moon” and just before centerpiece “Dirty Mouth” finds its way into grunge-style howling beastliness. Comprised of drummer/vocalist Lorena Cachito and guitarist Yanni Georgiou, the two-piece find winning momentum in “Salvation,” while closer “Thirsty” opens with a mellow drum progression gradually joined by the guitar and builds into more progressive and dramatic movement, casting off some of the rawness of the songs before it in favor of more complex fare. It still manages to soar at the end, though, and that seems to be what counts. They might be rawer now than they’ll eventually turn out, but that suits most of what they’re doing in adding to the emotionality on display in Cachito‘s vocals.

Golden Legacy on Thee Facebooks

Golden Legacy on Bandcamp

 

Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Coven of the Ultra-Riff

saint karloff devils witches coven of the ultra-riff

Alright, look. I don’t even think I have the full thing, but whatever. Saint Karloff and Devil’s Witches came together to release the Coven of the Ultra-Riff split — it can be so hard to find the right coven for your family; have you considered the Ultra-Riff? — and they each play an original track and then they cover each other’s songs and then Saint Karloff introduce the progression of “Supervixen (Electric Return)” and Devil’s Witches take up the mantle and run with it on “Supervixen (Acoustic Return),” so yeah, it’s pretty awesome and kind of all over the place but whatever. Get your head around it and get on board with whatever version you can grab. Vinyl came out through Majestic Mountain Records and tapes were through Stoner Witch Records and I’m fairly certain it’s all sold out already and probably stupid expensive on Discogs, but do what you need to do, because this is what Sabbath worship in the year 2019 is supposed to sound like. It’s bombed out of its gourd and has long since dropped out of life. It’s exactly where and what it wants to be.

Saint Karloff on Thee Facebooks

Devil’s Witches on Thee Facebooks

Majestic Mountain Records BigCartel store

Stoner Witch Records BigCartel store

 

Burden Limbs, There is No Escape

burden limbs there is no escape

I’m not going to pretend to have the grounding in post-hardcore to toss off the influences under which Burden Limbs are working, but to listen to the blast of noise in “How Many Times Must I Reset” and the near-industrial wash of noise they conjure in the subsequent “Hypochondriac,” it’s clear they’re working under one influence anyway. There is No Escape (released through Glasshouse Records) runs 24 minutes and carries four songs, but in that time the band around founding figurehead and guitarist/vocalist Chad Murray manage to challenge themselves and the listener alike to keep up with their turns and emotional resonance. Murray is joined by two bassists, another guitarist, keyboards/synth and drums, so yes, there’s something of a busy feel to it, but even echoing cavernous as they are, the vocals seem to draw the songs together around a central presence and add a human core to the proceedings that only makes them all the more affecting as would seem to be the intent.

Burden Limbs on Thee Facebooks

Glasshouse Records on Bandcamp

 

El Supremo, Clarity Through Distortion

El Supremo Clarity Through Distortion

Sometimes these things take a while, but El Supremo was formed by now-ex-Egypt bassist Chad Heille has a solo-project and released a self-titled demo in 2008, to which Clarity Through Distortion is the follow-up full-length. Now joined by guitarist Neil Stein (also ex-Egypt, and who also played some on the demo) and organist Chris Gould as well as bassist Cam Dewald who came aboard after the album’s completion, the instrumentalist full-band incarnation of El Supremo waste no time diving into dead-on tonal and riffy righteousness, taking classic heavy cues and running with them in modern production richness, sounding clear but natural as a jam like “Moanin’ & Groanin'” turns into a shuffler as it moves into its second half, or the mellow sway of the 14-minute “Supercell” at last runs head-on into the lumbering motion that will carry it through to the end. I don’t know how much clarity — at least of the existential sort I think they mean in the title — they might’ve found by the time the bluesy “Lotus Throne” rolls over into the shreddy “Outro” that caps, but if the method is distortion, they’ve certainly got that part down.

El Supremo on Thee Facebooks

El Supremo on Bandcamp

 

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Ruff Majik Post “Gloom & Tomb” Video & Announce TĂ„rn Album Details

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

ruff majik (Photo by Christelle Duvenage)

Not really sure where to place the riffage hurling forth from Ruff Majik‘s new album, TĂ„rn. Set for release as their first offering through Lay Bare Recordings and with a European tour presumably to be announced for the Fall given their recent Keep it Low confirmation, the album is somewhere between grit metal and doomly fuzz. Dirt doom, maybe? The groove has nasty edge, but they’re not really sludge, and the guitar cuts through raw like the best of garage heavy. I’m going to take some more time and really dig in, let it get under my fingernails, and see where we’re at, but in the meantime, Ruff Majik have a new video for “Gloom & Tomb,” which is the second song on the record after the opener, “Schizophrenic.” You’re also going to want to watch out for “Heretically Happy.” There’s some cool shit happening here.

Alright, I’ve said too much. Though before I punch out, I’m glad to see in the PR wire info below that I’m not the only one who saw the TĂ„rn cover and thought of He-Man.

Here’s the art, album details and preorder links. Video is at the bottom of the post, as usual:

ruff majik tarn

Ruff Majik reveal artwork for TĂ„rn and video for new single Gloom & Tomb

South African riff-mongers Ruff Majik have revealed the artwork for new album TĂ„rn along with a video new single Gloom & Tomb. Having recently announced their signing to Dutch label Lay Bare Recordings for the vinyl release of the album and with a couple European tours already lined up, 2019 is going to be a busy year for the band.

Working closely with long-time collaborator Anni Buchner on the artwork for TĂ„rn (Norwegian for tower), guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday explains more about the inspiration behind it all, “We chose the image of the tarot tower for this album cover because it symbolizes crisis, liberation and sudden unforeseen change. The band has been going through these motions for a few months now, and we felt it would only be fitting. We handed that over to Anni, and she turned it into magic as usual.”

“I’ve been working with the band since their first release back in 2015, and as the music has grown and developed over time, so has the art along with it in my opinion. The artwork is a new and more colourful take on the look of the classic Tower tarot card that holds a lot of significance for the band, as well as a bit of a reference to the iconic ‘Castle Grayskull’ from He-Man. Stylistically it’s also me trying out new things with gradients and textures.” adds Anni Buchner.

Johni goes on to comment on the video,” For this video, the band decided to go for a classic karaoke style sing along look, with some intense imagery in the background. Never straying too far from the psychedelic look, the video is full of eye-catching colours and dizzying sequences”

Pre-order on vinyl Here
Pre-order digital Here

Track Listing
1. Schizophrenic
2. Gloom & Tomb
3. I’ll Dig the Grave
4. Dread Breath
5. Heretically Happy
6. Speed Hippie
7. Seasoning the Witch

Ruff Majik is:
Johni Holiday (guitar/vocals)
Jimmy Glass (bass guitar)
Ben Manchino (drums)

https://www.ruffmajik.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ruffmajik
https://twitter.com/ruff_majik
https://www.instagram.com/ruffmajik/
https://laybarerecordings.com/
https://www.facebook.com/laybarerecordings/
https://twitter.com/laybarerecs

Ruff Majik, “Gloom & Tomb” official video

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Ruff Majik Closing 2018 with Cape Town Shows

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

ruff majik

When last heard from, South African trio Ruff Majik were getting ready to hit the studio in September to track a quick-turnaround sophomore album to answer their 2018 debut, Seasons (review here). They did shows throughout the country last month following up on two European tours earlier this year, and I’d have to imagine the new record is at least finished in terms of the actual recording process, if not mixed or yet mastered. Their eye was on an early 2019 release, so hopefully that actually comes together.

In the meantime, they’ll play four shows in Cape Town to close out the year, two of which are free. That in itself is pretty nifty, but kudos the band on getting four bookings in the same city on four consecutive nights. It’s not every group in every town who could make that happen, even with a variety of openers. Clearly there’s some respect there, so right on.

The PR wire brings the dates and the whatnot:

ruff majik tour

Ruff Majik Reveal Cape Town Tour Dates for December

Pretoria’s sludge n rollers Ruff Majik have announced a couple dates for Cape Town shows in December. They’ll be joined by Cape Town based hardcore heroes Peasant for two shows along with a host of the city’s finest heavy bands including MA-AT, Monstroid, Behest, Blood Ret, Pooch, The Man Motels and more.

Pieter Jordaan from Peasant comments on the tour “Cape Town is often starved of the doomy goodness that a band like Ruff Majik can provide, so we are very stoked to have them pull through for the long weekend! With Peasant joining on two dates, and some of the best garage, fuzz and hardcore the city has to offer, the tour will be the best way to start off the holiday season right!”

Ruff Majik guitarist and vocalist Johni Holiday does on to add “Cape Town is always such a magic experience. The crowds are always intensely invested in the music, and we get the best green when we visit! This time around, we’re really excited to be joined by the dudes of Peasant and some of the finest doom, garage and hardcore bands that CPT has to offer!”

THUR 13 DEC – Black Irish – 1 Scher Street, Durbanville R40 ENTRANCE
FRI 14 DEC – Prison – 28 Somerset Rd, Green Point, Cape Town FREE ENTRANCE
SAT 15 DEC – Scary Canary – 225 Long St, Cape Town City Centre R50 ENTRANCE
SUN 16 DEC – Surfarosa – 61a Harrington St, Zonnebloem FREE ENTRANCE

Ruff Majik:
Johni Holiday – Guitar, vocals
Jimi Glass – Bass guitar
Benni Manchino – Drums

https://www.ruffmajik.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ruffmajik
https://twitter.com/ruff_majik
https://www.instagram.com/ruffmajik/
https://forbiddenplacerecords.bandcamp.com/album/ruff-majik-seasons
http://shop.rockfreaks.de/en/home/92-ruff-majik-seasons-coming-soon-.html

Ruff Majik, Seasons (2018)

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Ruff Majik to Begin Recording New Album; Announce South Africa Shows

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 7th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

South African heavy psych trio Ruff Majik are set to enter the studio to record the follow-up to their 2018 debut album, Seasons (review here), for an early 2019 release. I won’t claim to have any insight on the band’s processes, but given the live sound of the last record and the series of EPs that preceded it, it doesn’t seem out of line to expect they’ll get their sophomore full-length to tape with all good speed. That’s all the better since at the end of the month they’ll take stage at the Krank’d Up festival in Johannesburg, as one of a select round of live dates they’ll do in their home country to correspond with the European tour they undertook this past Spring following Seasons‘ release. You’ll note in the announcement below for the shows it says they’ve never played in their hometown of Lydenburg. Even knowing nothing about urban populations and demographics in South Africa, that seems astonishing to me. Smaller town, I guess? Still fascinating.

Gotta figure they’ll be back in Europe supporting the new album whenever it arrives. Hopefully that happens sooner than later.

From the PR wire:

ruff majik

Pretoria’s Ruff Majik Divulge Details for their “Season of the Witch” tour.

Coming off the back of 2 very successful European tours, South Africa’s sludge n roll kings Ruff Majik have revealed dates and details for their Season of The Witch tour.

Kicking off on the 29th September with their mainstage appearance at this year’s chapter of the mighty Krank’d Up Music Festival, the tour will see them play in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and for the very 1st time in their home town of Lydenburg.

“We’re extremely excited to be hitting the road for a few select dates with some good friends! Each show will be an entirely different experience with these line-ups, so we can’t wait!” – Johni Holiday, vocals / guitar

29 September // JHB // Krank’d Up Music Festival
12 October // PTA // The Grind Bar // with from Apocalypse Later, Wolkberg
13 October // JHB // Sundowners // with Them Dirty Shrikes, Caution Boy
20 October // DBN // Winston // with Pollinator, Mad God
26 October // LYD // Jam Jar Lounge // with Wolkberg, Them Dirty Shrikes

The band released their debut full length album Seasons on the 20th April 2018 which was well received by the local and international metal and rock media.

Seasons available now on all digital platforms including BandCamp Apple Music Spotify Deezer and on CD and cassette via Forbidden Place Records

The band will be in studio in September 2018 recording the follow up to Seasons with the aim of releasing early in 2019.

Ruff Majik:
Johni Holiday – Guitar, vocals
Jimi Glass – Bass guitar
Benni Manchino – Drums

https://www.ruffmajik.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ruffmajik
https://twitter.com/ruff_majik
https://www.instagram.com/ruffmajik/
https://forbiddenplacerecords.bandcamp.com/album/ruff-majik-seasons
http://shop.rockfreaks.de/en/home/92-ruff-majik-seasons-coming-soon-.html

Ruff Majik, Seasons (2018)

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