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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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 25

Posted in Radio on December 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

As this is the final episode of The Obelisk Show… of the year — ha! gotcha — as well as being the 25th episode, it seemed only fair to make it a special one. As such, it’s a recap of Some of a Little Bit of the Best of 2019. Barely a snippet, really, but a digestible snippet as compared to, say, the full Top However Many list that’ll go up around here in the coming weeks.

This was a fun one to put together, and, frankly, easy. Yeah, I keep a running tally of what I think are any given year’s best records as the year plays out, but I pulled most of these just off the top of my head. Some are more recent, post-June, and some are from earlier in the year, but it’s all high-quality stuff, and though it by no means represents everything awesome that’s come my way — let alone all the stuff I’ve missed; Boris walks by and waves (on their way to the next Quarterly Review, anyhow) — it’s a fun look at some of a little bit of it. Hence the silly title.

I’ll be truthful and say I kind of miss doing this every other week, but it’s been once a month now for a couple months and I guess that’s fine. Gimme Radio has a couple other heavy rock-minded shows — John Brookhouse from Worshipper, Matt Bacon come to mind — but I’m still a little out there from that stuff, and I kind of like it that way. It’d be dishonest otherwise.

In any case, show’s on at 1PM today, and if you get to listen, I certainly appreciate it. Airs at http://gimmeradio.com

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 12.06.19

Nebula Let’s Get Lost Holy Shit
Monolord The Last Leaf No Comfort
Slomatics Telemachus, My Son Canyons
BREAK
Mars Red Sky Hollow King The Task Eternal
Blackwater Holylight Seeping Secrets Veils of Winter
Earth An Unnatural Carousel Full Upon Her Burning Lips
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard The Spaceships of Ezekiel Yn Ol I Annwn
Roadsaw Along for the Ride Tinnitus the Night
Lo-Pan Ascension Day Subtle
BREAK
Saint Vitus Remains Saint Vitus
Orodruin Letter of Life’s Regret Ruins of Eternity
Destroyer of Light Dissolution Mors Aeterna
Lord Vicar The Temple in the Bedrock The Black Powder
Goatess Goddess Blood and Wine
Yatra Smoke is Rising Death Ritual
BREAK
Inter Arma The Atavist’s Meridian Sulphur English

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every first Friday of the month at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is Jan. 3, I think. Thanks for listening if you do.

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Høstsabbat 2020 Makes First Lineup Announcement: Mars Red Sky, Gösta Berlings Saga, Obliteration and Superlynx Confirmed

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

It’s been a little over the month since the end of Høstsabbat 2019 (review here), and it is with the overwhelming positivity of that experience still ringing in my ears that I’m happy to dig into the first lineup announcement for the 2020 edition of the Oslo-based festival. I don’t know if I’ll get to go next year — I never know these things, until I do, which is usually later on — but it’s always encouraging to see awesome events run by passionate people doing cool things, and that most definitely applies here.

Of particular note is the re-addition of Superlynx to the bill after they couldn’t make it this year last minute owing to a death in the family. That was a bummer that threatened to cast a pall over the weekend, but the fact that they’ll come back in 2020 is of course welcome news. Likewise the confirmation of Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky, who’ll make their first appearance at Høstsabbat playing at the Kulturkirken Jakob, which could hardly be more suited an environment for their soaring melodies and weighted tones.

Joining those two are Obliteration and Stockholm bizarro instrumentalists Gösta Berlings Saga, and tickets are on sale as of today. Fest is Oct. 2 and 3, as you can see below:

hostsabbat 2020 first announcement

Høstsabbat 2020: OCT. 2-3

It is time! Høstsabbat is proud and eager to present the first bands for Høstsabbat 2020, spanning over a whole deal of what our festival stands for. After two sold out years, it’s a marvelous feeling to acknowledge the support from our crowd on so many levels. We hope all of you find these four bands as exciting as we do.

From the stoned and spacey, otherworldly dynamics of Mars Red Sky, to the cold, aggressive evilness of Obliteration.

From the soothing, meditative doom of Superlynx, to the experimenting, electric weirdo-jams of Gösta Berlings Saga.

We feel these four acts represents a vision of what Høstsabbat is trying to put out there. A collective sense of underground acts, juggling between the different aspects of heavy, located in our very own church of doom, in the centre of our vivid city that is Oslo. Even if fall just turned into winter, we can easily skip spring and summer to take part in what will be Høstsabbat 2020.

Høstsabbat 2020 will once again go down at our favourite venue, Kulturkirken JAKOB, October 2nd and 3rd. A stunning church in the heart of Oslo, with an atmosphere unrivaled.

After the sold out Høstsabbat festivals in 2018 and 2019 we’re ready for more. Over two days you will experience slow and crushing doom, heavy bluesrock, stoner, proto-heavy metal, psychedelic spacerock and prog over three stages.

Høstsabbat will showcase the best of the current underground scene of heavy music, bringing new talent as well as established names.

Summon the spirits, gather the souls…

https://www.facebook.com/events/431138574088425/
https://www.facebook.com/hostsabbat/
http://hostsabbat.no/

Mars Red Sky, “The Proving Grounds” official video

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Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal: On Proving Grounds

Posted in Reviews on September 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

mars red sky the task eternal

The approach of Bordeaux, France’s Mars Red Sky continues to grow richer on their fourth long-player, The Task Eternal. Also their third outing for Listenable Records, it comprises an eight-track/49-minute run that digs into many of what have become the trio’s signature elements — fragile melodies, tonal heft, nod and march, etc. — while playing toward a wider atmospheric breadth than even 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here) could offer. As ever, the new album was led into by an EP, in this case the short self-release Collector (discussed here) earlier this year, and what was the title-track there shows up early here as well, following opener and longest cut (immediate points) “The Proving Grounds” on side A. Whatever patterns it has followed along the way, Mars Red Sky‘s progression has been steady from release to release, with perhaps the most major jump being from the sweet melodies and hooky bounce of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) to the second album, 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here), which even with a 2012 split with Year of No Light (discussed here) and 2013’s Be My Guide EP (review here) between them was the point when the band signaled the proggier intent that their subsequent outings have allowed to flourish in their songwriting.

Notable that it was around that same time that the lineup solidified with Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau on drums alongside founding guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/sometimes vocalist Jimmy Kinast, since as they moved through Stranded in Arcadia, 2016’s Providence EP (review here), Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul), 2017’s Myramyd EP (discussed here) and Collector — touring all the while — their chemistry has only become more palpable. That rings true throughout The Task Eternal as well as the band provides their listenership with much to dig into in laid back tempos, some surprisingly aggro lyrics on “The Proving Grounds” and an expansive vision of heavy psychedelia that sees them toying with even their own conventions of songcraft as the paired tracks “Recast” and “Reacts” play one into the next with the latter using the former as a launch point for a plotted instrumental jam that winds up longer than the song that birthed it.

Largesse of tone is nothing new for Mars Red Sky, and as ever, they bring a warmth to the guitar and bass that is engaging to the point of hypnosis as the opener shifts from its initial roll into a section of shimmering guitar-led drift as it oozes into the second half. The stop and return of the marching bassline is sudden and wants to be, but Pras tops it with obscure vocal lines that become part of the melodic wash and the effect is gorgeous as “The Proving Grounds” — you might recall Apex III began with the intro “Alien Grounds,” so clearly the band are conscious of their starting points — fades to silence ahead of the rumble at the outset of “Collector.” At 4:13, “Collector” is shorter even than the closing acoustic outro “A Far Cry” — the band essentially swapping the method of putting the longest track last and the lead-in track first; it works much to the album’s advantage — and something of a return to earth structurally after the relative sprawl of “The Proving Grounds,” still working in deeply mixed layers but doing so around a central chorus and never departing too far from it. That ends up all the more appreciable as “Recast” begins with a quiet sway ahead of unveiling its howling wah over the slow, graceful movement that is unfurled.

mars red sky

Subtle angularity and subtler speed in the riff adds presence and urgency to the verse, but the overarching vibe is still soothing as “Recast” heads in linear fashion toward its chugging crescendo — Gazeau giving nods toward extreme metal in the drums — before the same riff returns at the start of “Reacts,” and becomes the foundation on which that instrumental exploration is built. It’s fitting that “Reacts” should be so utterly entrancing, as it’s tucked at the end of side A, but as it lumbers toward and through its halfway point, it pulls back on the residual energy leftover from “Recast” and instead moves into a sleepy roll, which Pras eventually meets with a solo followed by a section of ethereal vocals (thinking at 5:00, or maybe I’m just hearing things) that quiets down again and rebuilds, ending with a short section of noise as the first half of the album is complete.

One has to consider the possibility that The Task Eternal, the title itself, is referring to the ongoing evolution of the band, and that the task in question is their process of chasing down whatever vision of sound they’re ultimately trying to represent at any given time. A roving target, perhaps. It seems only fair, then, that they’d put “Soldier On” before “A Far Cry” at the album’s conclusion, but before they get there, “Crazy Hearth” and “Hollow King” give something of an effect like “Collector” in their relative return to ground after the float of “Reacts.” Sure, “Hollow King” has plenty of spread in the guitar of its second half and sweeping final chorus, but that comes complemented with a solidified rhythm and that chorus stands among the most memorable throughout The Task Eternal. Particularly following “Crazy Hearth,” it’s a chance for Mars Red Sky to emphasize their well-honed ability to create spaciousness within set sonic and structural ideas.

They reserve a final showcase of swing for “Soldier On,” which also featured on Collector in two versions, and shift into the second half with a quiet stretch before reviving the shove onward toward the last chorus and delivery of the title lines, a theme of persistence emerging between “Soldier On” and “The Proving Grounds” upon which “A Far Cry” allows a moment to reflect with its acoustic and electric lines and emergent effects, smoothly building to a wash so that even after most of it cuts out, there’s still enough left to carry The Task Eternal to its serene conclusion. From the intricacy of its layers to the nuance in how it’s actually put together in terms of where the tracks are and how they play off each other, Mars Red Sky‘s latest is a triumph in what’s becoming a tradition thereof. As they resume the chase next time, it may only be another step along the way, but as only a mature band can, Mars Red Sky know their strengths and how to bring them to light in ways that are as exciting as they are individualized. I’ll readily admit to being a fan, but simply put, they are something special. If you don’t hear that in The Task Eternal, it’s your loss.

Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal (2019)

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Mars Red Sky website

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Mars Red Sky Post “The Proving Grounds” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 29th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

mars red sky (Photo by Rod Maurice)

Today is Thursday. This past Monday, I posted a streaming interview with Mars Red Sky wherein among the subjects covered was the castle in the south of their native France in which the band wrote and recorded for their new album, The Task Eternal, set to release Sept. 27 through Listenable Records. Their new video for “The Proving Grounds,” the expansive opening track of that record, was filmed in presumably around that same space, as we can see the band in the kind of parlor room from whence prior album updates were made, lit by spotlights intended to evoke almost a fireplace kind of feel, playing up a sense of organic surroundings, rock walls, open fields, and so on. There is a character who makes his way to the roof of the structure and sends up a flare, attracting the attention of an awesome disco-ball of a spaceship, which would seem to beam him aboard as the song reaches its melodic wash of a culmination. To call it apropos of how the track itself leads into the rest of The Task Eternal would be underselling it.

One thing I didn’t realize about “The Proving Grounds” until seeing the lyrics printed on the YouTube page with the video itself was the defiant stance of the hook. To wit, “We’ll prove you wrong/And carry on/We’ll carry on/You’re going down now/We’ll prove you wrong/And carry on/On proving grounds/You’re going down.” Those are hardcore lyrics! Mars Red Sky sound like they’re looking for a fight. It’s a somewhat unexpected perspective of confrontationalism from the Bordeaux trio, but still carried across in their trademark melodic heavy psychedelic and progressive fashion. I guess once you’re dug into that vibe, you can do with it as you will, but the edge is still something new from them. I have to wonder what the song is actually about specifically, if there’s one thing to which it’s responding or more of a general statement of purpose pitched in this manner. Too bad the interview already happened.

Still about a month away from the release of this one, but I’m comfortable just the same calling The Task Eternal one of the year’s best records, so if you do the preorder thing, I can only advise it, though that’s pretty much been my stance on these guys all along. Points for consistency.

Enjoy the clip:

Mars Red Sky, “The Proving Grounds” official video

Tidal waves of wounded egos
Crashed in unison
Spreading coast to coast
Now the season has begun

‘The Proving Grounds’ video was shot in the castle of Monteton (FR) and directed by Seb Antoine. The track is taken off our new album “The Task Eternal”, due out September 27 on Listenable Records.

Directed By Seb Antoine
Starring Grégory Dreyfus
Lights: Geoffrey Torres
Visual Effects : Original Cosmic – Romain Marchetti
Filmed In Monteton Castle – Thanks to the local crew
Special Thanks to Manu Feramus, Mathieu Disson, Jean Godet & Pierre-Gérard David.

Recorded and mixed by Benjamin Mandeau at Cryogene Studio, mastered by Pierre Etchandy.

‘The Proving Grounds’ is where Michael Connelly’s character Mickey Haller makes his case before “The Gods Of Guilt”. In this song we are alternately the jury and the accused. Hence the temptation of reaching out to the skies, board a spacecraft and take off, or travel in time to fix what can be fixed.

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Streaming: Interview with Julien Pras & Jimmy Kinast of Mars Red Sky

Posted in audiObelisk, Features on August 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

mars red sky

On Sept. 27, the fourth full-length from Mars Red Sky, titled The Task Eternal, will be released through Listenable Records. The label has been their home since their second long-player, 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here), which followed their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) and set the band on a road of progression that The Task Eternal seems only to continue. In answering back the expansive forward steps of 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here), the new album retains the Bordeaux-based trio’s penchant for songwriting that’s been so central to their purposes since the start, while drifting even further into otherworldly and psychedelic expanses. It is a colorful swirl throughout The Task Eternal, and I won’t tell you how to listen to it, but as much fun as it might be to get lost in the experience, there’s a good chance you’ll retain more than you think afterward, whether that’s from the fading lines of opener “The Proving Grounds” or the hooks of tracks like the marching “Hollow King” or “Collector.”

The latter also serves as the title-track of a newly issued EP intended as a lead-in for the LP to come. Collector bundles two versions of itself with two versions of “Soldier On,” also the penultimate cut on The Task Eternal, including a demo with mars red sky the task eternalguitarist/vocalist Julien Pras as a multi-instrumentalist, and a guest appearance from Igor Sidorenko of Stoned Jesus, the album versions, etc. It’s a welcome piece perhaps aimed at the people who might fit the description of its title, but most importantly, it introduces the listener to the atmosphere that The Task Eternal broadens in songs like “Recast” and “Reacts,” “Crazy Hearth” and even the instrumental closer “A Far Cry,” which, when it’s done, just might be where you feel like you are in relation to from where you started. All told, the album is 49 minutes across eight songs that is unmistakably the work of Mars Red Sky — Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast, drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and yet works to further the reach of that very definition. Like what’s come before it, it is the output of a constantly-refining creative unfolding.

At some point before the release date, I’ll put up a review, which I guess will probably just say that in wordier fashion, but among the topics I wanted to discuss with Pras and Kinast in this interview was the notion of The Task Eternal being the band’s creativity itself: that constant hunt for an ideal vision that’s a moving target from release to release as the band develops. In addition to that, the fact of Mars Red Sky‘s heavy touring and upcoming Fall European run (including shows with Kadavar) had me wondering if they might make it back to the US anytime soon — you might recall they were here in 2016 to play Psycho Las Vegas and made a stop at The Obelisk All-Dayer in Brooklyn beforehand (video here). They let it drop that they’ve got some stuff in the works, and indeed talked about the process of working with a different recording engineer each time out in an effort to capture different sounds, and how the change itself is a part of chasing that ideal. We also spent a good amount of time talking about the castle where they jammed, finished writing and started recording The Task Eternal, which, really, had to be done, when you think about it.

Interview follows here on the player below.

Enjoy:

Interview with Julien Pras & Jimmy Kinast

 

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 20

Posted in Radio on August 2nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

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Doing something different this time. In the past, I’ve posted playlists after the show airs, as recaps. This time, it’s before, in case, you know, you actually want to listen to the thing.

Do so at 1PM Eastern here: http://gimmeradio.com.

It’s a good show, and kind of back to normal as regards general methodology. A lot of new music, which makes me happy, and some Acrimony for a classic track, which I feel like I may have done before but seemed relevant to me anyway for reasons that will become clear over the next however long — ooh, intrigue! — and the title-tracks from new High on Fire and Mars Red Sky EPs. Had to get that High on Fire in there in light of Des leaving the band. Still really curious to see what they’re like without him.

A lot of this stuff has been covered around here lately — Horseburner, Pale Grey Lore, Monarch, Wolf Blood, The Ivory Elephant, Dead Feathers — but there’s more that I haven’t yet had the chance to properly write about in bands like Glacier, Sibyl, the new Book of Wyrms and Merlin releases, etc., so I think it’s a cool balance of stuff overall, and the tracks rule. And if you listen to the show, I kind of nerd out a bit about the new Mars Red Sky record, which is always enjoyable. For me, mostly, I suspect. But still.

Fun show. Glad I made it, and it’s the 20th one, which is a genuine surprise. If I was Gimme, I would’ve shitcanned me long ago.

Anyway, check it out if you can, and thanks.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 08.02.19

Pale Grey Lore Before the Fall Eschatology*
Horseburner Drowning Bird The Thief*
High on Fire Bat Salad Bat Salad*
BREAK
Mars Red Sky Collector Collector*
The Ivory Elephant Stoneface Stoneface*
Dead Feathers Horse and Sands All is Lost*
Merlin Chaos Blade The Mortal*
Hippie Death Cult Breeder’s Curse 111*
BREAK
Acrimony Hymns to the Stone Tumuli Shroomaroom (1997)
Sibyl Pendulums The Magic Isn’t Real*
Wolf Blood Slaughterhouse II*
Monarch Counterpart Beyond the Blue Sky*
Book of Wyrms Spirit Drifter Remythologizer*
BREAK
Glacier O! World! I Remain No Longer Here No Light Ever*
Frozen Planet….1969 Rollback Meltdown on the Horizon*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Friday at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is Aug. 16. Thanks for listening if you do.

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Mars Red Sky Premiere “Collector” Video; EP out June 19

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 14th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

mars red sky (Photo by Rod Maurice)

Welcome to the next era of Mars Red Sky. With the coming release of the Collector EP, which will have a limited cassette pressing of 300 copies available at Hellfest on June 19 — and hopefully on the interwebs afterwards if there are leftovers — the Bordeaux, France, heavy psych rock three-piece begin the march toward their fourth album, The Task Eternal. That full-length will be out Sept. 27 on Listenable Records, and a preview EP is standard practice for Mars Red Sky going back to 2013’s Be My Guide EP (review here) which followed their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) and preceded 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here). Likewise, before they issued Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here) in 2016, they offered up the Providence EP (review here), and if you want to go all the way back, they had a 7″ single out before the first record as well. So yes, bouncing between shorter and longer offerings is very much in-character for Mars Red Sky.

Today marks the premiere of “Collector,” the title-track and single from the EP, and the video below, and it finds the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/sometimes vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau locked as ever into an irresistible rolling groove, filled out as much through low-end tonality in the guitar and bass as by Pras‘ echoing, floating melodic vocals over top. This dichotomy has been at the heart of Mars Red Sky since their outset — it’s essential to what they mars red sky collectordo — but over time they’ve grown more complex as well, as the 2017 17-minute instrumental single Myramid (discussed here) demonstrated and as one can hear in a fluid thread of progression across all their releases. At just over four minutes long, “Collector” itself is of a more straight-ahead verse/chorus style, but even in its depth of melody and the feeling of space conjured by the recording, one can hear Mars Red Sky moving past even the accomplishments of their last LP and toward those of The Task Eternal.

On the EP, “Collector” appears twice — the other version featuring a solo from Stoned Jesus‘ Igor Sidorenko — and comes complemented on each side by “Soldier On,” a longer and more lumbering cut with an expansive hook and a hypnotic break in its midsection held together by Gazeau on drums as the guitar builds dramatically back toward the plodding verse and the even-bigger-sounding finish. It is hard to know ultimately how much the material on Collector — the second version of “Soldier On” is a demo — will represent what’s to come on The Task Eternal. With ProvidenceMars Red Sky essentially set the atmosphere of Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul). That may be what’s happening again, or it could be something else entirely. The story at this point is just starting to be told.

You can see the premiere of the “Collector” video below, with live footage of the band spliced in with archival clips of people playing some kind of competitive frisbee game and a surprising amount of American iconography, culminating in a kind of cannon shooting out hamburgers, hot dogs, baseballs, televisions and cars. Fair enough for a song about someone collecting souls — my country rarely comes into unearned criticism — but one has to wonder as well if Mars Red Sky are taking a more direct and socially-conscious stance going into the LP. Or it could just be a one-off. Again, won’t know till we get there. But it’s fun to speculate.

Video is by Sebastien Antoine with live footage from Paris filmed by Rod Maurice. The music was recorded and mixed by Benjamin Mandeau at Studio Cryogene in Bègles, France, just south of Bordeaux proper and on the banks of the River Garonne, and mastered by Pierre Etchandy.

PR wire info, comment from the band and copious tour dates follow.

Enjoy:

Mars Red Sky, “Collector” official video premiere

French heavy psychedelic masters MARS RED SKY release their new digital single entitled ‘Collector’ today! The song is taken from their upcoming fourth album ‘The Task Eternal’, due for release this year on September 27th on Listenable Records.

The band comments: “Collector is quite a straightforward track that may recall the ‘Mindreader’ vibe from our previous album ‘Apex III (Praise for the burning soul)’ in its structure and delivery. Lyrics deal with a soul collector, an evil being who announces his return to the city with the intention of terrorizing the population.”

The single is taken from new album ‘The Task Eternal’ due out September 27th on Listenable Records. The limited edition ‘Collector’ cassette EP will also present an exclusive version of the song with Stoned Jesus frontman Igor Sydorenko on guitar solo, as well as two special renditions of ‘Soldier On’ (also appearing on the album). With a total of four tracks, the ‘Collector’ EP is a perfect taster and yet another highly collectible item for any MARS RED SKY fan.

Available from June 19th, the ‘Collector’ cassette EP will be limited to 300 copies and exclusively available from MRS Red Sound web store, Listenable booth at Hellfest Metal Market and on all upcoming shows. It will also see a digital release via Mars Red Sky’s Bandcamp and Mad Reed Studio Bandcamp.

New single Collector available on all streaming platforms now

https://ampl.ink/W45Qk

https://marsredsky.bandcamp.com/

Limited edition cassette EP available June 19th via MRS Red Sound

https://marsredsky.bigcartel.com/product/ep-cassette-collector

TRACK LISTING:
Side A
1. Collector
2. Soldier On #A
Side B
1. Collector (feat. Igor Sydorenko)
2. Soldier On (demo version)

All tracks on the EP were recorded and mixed by Benjamin Mandeau at Cryogene Studio, except for “Soldier On (Demo)” which was performed, recorded and mixed by Julien Pras at Mad Reed Studio. Artwork designed by Carlos Olmo.
MARS RED SKY also announce a series of live shows in support of new album ‘The Task Eternal’, to be continued in 2020 and beyond:

08.06.19 MONTAIGU (FR) Crumble Fest
15.06.19 PORT SAINT LOUIS DU RHONE (13) Camargue Sessions
18.07.19 BILBAO (SP) Kafe Antzokia
19.07.19 BRAGA (PT) Rodellus Festival
03.08.19 CHEVANCEAUX (17) Laryrock
10.08.19 BAGNES (CH) Rocklette Palp festival
16.08.19 SAINT-NOLFF (FR) Motocultor Festival
27.09.19 ANGOULEME (FR) La Nef
11.10.10 BELFORT (FR) La Poudrière
12.10.19 STRASBOURG (FR) La Laiterie
17.10.19 SAINT BRIEUC (FR) Carnavalorock
25.10.19 VENDOME (FR) Les Rockomotives
26.10.19 GRENOBLE (FR) L’Ampérage
27.10.19 MONTHEY (CH) Pont Rouge
29.10.19 ZÜRICH (CH) Rote Fabrik
30.10.19 BRUSSEL (BE) Les Halles
31.10.19 DIKSMUIDE (BE) 4AD
01.11.19 COLOGNE (DE) Helios 37
02.11.19 AMSTERDAM (NL) Melkweg
03.11.19 WIESBADEN (DE) Schlachthof
04.11.19 MUNICH (DE) Feierwerk
05.11.19 VIENNA (AT) Arena
06.11.19 LEIPZIG (DE) Werk2
07.11.19 BERLIN (DE) Cassiopeia
08.11.19 HAMBURG (DE) Hafenklang
09.11.19 KRAKOW (PL) Soulstone Gathering
20.11.19 CLERMONT-FERRAND (FR) La Coopérative de Mai
14.12.19 MONTPELLIER (FR) Black Sheep
04.03.20 PARIS (FR) La Maroquinerie
05.03.20 TOURS (FR) Le Temps Machine
06.03.20 TOULOUSE (FR) Le Metronum
13.03.20 DIJON (FR) La Vapeur
14.03.20 ORLEANS (FR) L’Astrolabe
28.03.20 GERARDMER (FR) Maison de la Culture

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