Spiral Grave Premiere “Out of My Head” Video; Legacy of the Anointed out Now

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 29th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

spiral grave

With veins pumping the dense blood of Maryland doom itself, Spiral Grave released their awaited debut album, Legacy of the Anointed, on July 16 through Argonauta Records. It is the culmination of two-plus years of work and a collaboration that goes back over a decade, as guitarist Will Rivera, formerly of Virginia chaos-conjurors Lord, joined together with the three remaining members of MD doom mainstays/elementals Iron Man following the passing in early 2018 of that band’s founding songwriter and guitarist, Alfred Morris III. As one might expect, Morris and Iron Man are a significant presence in the Noel Mueller of Grimoire Records-helmed Legacy of the Anointed, the very title of which acknowledges the band’s origins and the sense of duty they feel in carrying forward in the way they do across these eight songs.

Fair enough. Vocalist “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun, bassist “Iron” Louis Strachan, and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann, together with Rivera, form a presence of their own in bringing together classic metal and doomly traditionalism, offering some speedier moments that Iron Man likely wouldn’t dare in the early cut “Out of My Head” (video premiering below) as well as “Walking Talking Dead Man” and the closing salvo of “Tanglefoot” and “Abgrund,” though there’s plenty of nestled-in groove to coincide, whether it’s prior singles “Nothing” and “Walking Talking Dead Man,” or the opener “Nightmare on May Eve (Dunwich Pt. 1)” — a song with its own thrashier moments and no shortage of context to suit a band of whom the same could easily be said.

spiral grave legacy of the anointed

The crucial work Spiral Grave do, however — and however they do it in a given track — is to move forward from the foundation of the members’ prior work. Due homage is paid, but Rivera is a much different guitarist than was Morris, and Lord (who also broke up in 2018) have a worthy back catalog to prove that along with the merit of his songwriting and aggression-tinged approach, well suited to a lyric like “Modern Day Golden Calf,” and the brooding bleakness of “Nothing” and “Your Enemy’s Enemy,” to say nothing of “Walking Talking Dead Man.”

It’s hard to know the timing on which songs were first and which were later, since even “Nothing,” which Salt of the Earth Records released as the band’s first single in 2019, arrives with some progressive flourish in the midsection instrumental stretch, but definitely by the time the four-piece are into “Tanglefoot” there’s a sense of the progress they’ve undertaken, CalhounWaldmann and Strachan pushing themselves to keep pace with the riffs in a way that isn’t struggling or conflicting, but gives a sense of undertaking a new style just the same. “Abgrund,” the longest cut at 8:15, has a similar metal-of-doom vibe, and hits its payoff — you’ll note the mad screaming from Calhoun — after about five minutes in, not just in answer to the two six-minute-plus songs that led off in “Nightmare on May Eve (Dunwich Pt. 1)” and “Modern Day Golden Calf,” but for the momentum of Legacy of the Anointed as a whole. The swing of “Out of My Head,” the hook and bass punch of “Nothing,” the shove of “Your Enemy’s Enemy”; all seem to find representation and summary in the final going of the album, and the flow from one to the next is palpable despite the purposeful bumps left in the road in the shifts from one part to the next.

The duality of Legacy of the Anointed becomes a defining feature, both stylistically and in terms of the band itself, these being experienced players embarking on something new together. One would not ask more of Spiral Grave than they give here, and in terms of giving that legacy of Iron Man its due while at the same time moving ahead to something willfully ‘else,’ these songs look forward more than back. As they should.

Calhoun offers a quote to go with the premiere of “Out of My Head” below. To it, I’ll just add that given the vitality of the band’s performances throughout the record, it’s fair enough to have the video represent them on stage.

Enjoy:

Spiral Grave, “Out of My Head” video premiere

Dee Calhoun on “Out of My Head”:

I think the cool thing about the video is we shot it at The Depot in Baltimore, which is where Spiral Grave played our first show, and where we did our single release when “Nothing” came out. So it just seemed like a cool thing to shoot that video in the same spot, and we were real happy with how it turned out. Had a real fun day that day.

Produced and engineered by Noel Mueller
Recorded at Tiny Castle Recording, Towson MD
Mastered by Doug Benson at Commodore Recording Studio, Thurmont MD

Spiral Grave are:
“Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun – vocals
Willy Rivera – guitar
“Iron” Louis Strachan – bass
Jason “Mot” Waldmann – drums

Spiral Grave on Facebook

Spiral Grave on Bandcamp

Argonauta Records website

Argonauta Records on Facebook

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Bobby Liebling & Dave Sherman: Pentagram and Earthride Members Team for Nite Owl Release

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 24th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

What started out in 2009 as a limited CDR from Bobby Liebling’s Ram Family is now being given the moniker Bobby Liebling & Dave Sherman Basement Chronicles and released under the title Nite Owl on LP and CD through Svart Records. If you recall the Liebling documentary Last Days Here (review here), some of this music was featured. It was pretty raw then and is now as well, but you know, you bring together two of Maryland/D.C. doom’s most celebrated figures in Sherman and Liebling — not to mention Gary Isom and Russ Strahan, who both also add guitar and songwriting — there’s going to be some manner of continued interest.

Liebling earlier this year released the debut from The Limit, also through Svart. He’s about as close to ‘canceled’ as I’ve seen anyone in the doom community come — if the sexual-harassment-on-tour allegations didn’t do it, the assault on his mother seemed to — but remains a figurehead in Chesapeake heavy, and so yeah, putting this stuff out makes sense. Don’t be surprised if Pentagram makes a comeback either. That’s how it goes.

Release here is Oct. 29. Info follows:

nite owl basement chronicles

Nite Owl by Bobby Liebling and Dave Sherman Basement Chronicles

Preorder LP: https://svartrecords.com/product/bobby-liebling-dave-sherman-nite-owl-album/

Nite Owl by Bobby Liebling and Dave Sherman Basement Chronicles is a set of doom bangers, fuzz rockers and meditative late night boogie finally made available to a wider audience.

In the early years of the new millennium doom metal legend Bobby Liebling was going through a quieter period after the Pentagram lineup that had brought us the album Show ‘Em How had disbanded. Dave Sherman, Liebling’s longtime friend and a renowned doom metal musician (Earthride, Spirit Caravan) started hanging out with Bobby more regularly and eventually the duo decided it’s time to record something and see what it would bring. “After having crashed my car”, Sherman recounts, “I was regularly packing my 4 track into a backpack, saddling up on my iron horse and riding over in the dead of night to visit Bobby. He was in sore spirits and solitary at the time so I’d started going over to keep him company, thumb through his record collection, talk music and party. These hang sessions inspired us both, so I ended up writing some riffs. With the lights of the recorder lit, these night songs effortlessly flowed out of us and were chronicled in one take.”

The Nite Owl album is the first time these recordings, a snippet of which can be heard in the cult classic documentary Last Days Here, are made available officially apart from CD-r “I Plead The Fifth” of which just a handful of copies were made by the artists. The Svart version is also remastered and partially remixed at Noise For Fiction studios, for a slightly more amplified and less lo-fi experience.

Tracklisting:
I’m Takin’ No More (Liebling / Isom)
Drop The Gun (Liebling / Sherman)
You’re Like The Wind (Liebling)
All Lit Up (Liebling / Sherman)
Last Call (Liebling / Sherman)
Space Marshall (Liebling / Sherman)
Sweet Street Cheater (Liebling / Sherman)
Nite Owl (Liebling / Sherman)
South Of The Swamp (Liebling / Strahan)

Lineup:
Russ Strahan – Guitars (lead, slide)
Dave Sherman – Guitars (rhythm), Bass, Drums, Percussion
Gary Isom – Guitars (rhythm, harmony)
Bobby Liebling – Vocals, Guitars (lead, rhythm), Bass, Percussion

www.svartrecords.com
www.facebook.com/svartrecords

Bobby Liebling & Dave Sherman Basement Chronicles, “South of the Swamp”

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Friday Full-Length: Spirit Caravan, Jug Fulla Sun

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 11th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Perennial in a way few albums are, Spirit Caravan‘s Jug Fulla Sun was first issued by Tolotta Records in 1999. The same label, owned by Fugazi‘s Joe Lally, had released the debut 7″ from Shine in 1997, which was the band that would become Spirit Caravan — guitarist/vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, bassist Dave Sherman and drummer Gary Isom. Shine came together after Weinrich‘s time in The Obsessed ended following 1994’s The Church Within, and while of course there were carryover elements in tone and songwriting approach, Jug Fulla Sun retains an identity of its own because of the players involved and because of the spirit of the material itself.

Did ever a Maryland doom rhythm section sound so sleek as Isom and Sherman on do here on “Cosmic Artifact?” And “Powertime,” just a couple tracks later, is the quintessential MD doom riff, with the kind of crunch one could hear not only from The Obsessed, but also in acts like Iron ManUnorthodoxInternal Void, and so on. 22 years after the fact, there are still bands doing that thing. What continues to separate Spirit Caravan from the bunch is the worship-worthy tone captured in the recording by Chris Kozlowski and the warmth of the album overall.

Someone asks you the difference between doom and heavy rock. You could put on The Obsessed and Spirit Caravan to illustrate it. There are times where the line is fine, but even in “Courage” or the biker-rock-chugging “Chaw,” there’s a bounce to Spirit Caravan‘s groove that is, for me at least, pivotal in making Jug Fulla Sun the classic it is. And even the title is a positive image. A jug full of sun. Well, there are storms on the sun sometimes and yes, it’s a giant ball of turbulent atomic reaction that one day will swell to such a size as to obliterate the earth, but it’s also the reason there’s any life in this planetary system at all. And the jug is full. It’s not half-full, or half-empty. It’s a spirit of positivity, and even “Melancholy Grey” picks up its tempo in its second half to get on board.

There are examples more through the earlier tracks than later, perhaps, but in looking to the lyrics for an example of Jug Fulla Sun‘s overarching point of view and what makes it so special, the title-cut might say it best:

Say, hey! How you feelin’ now?
Have you come alive?
The golden rays of day will be clearin’ out
All your poison jive
It won’t be long before we’re all put to the test
To praise with song
Creation’s life we’re blessed

SPIRIT CARAVAN JUG fULLA SUN

It’s not about blinding yourself to reality, but being willing to change the shape of the reality you see. “Dead Love/Jug Fulla Sun,” at eight minutes, is the longest inclusion on Spirit Caravan‘s first LP, with a mellower unfolding in its initial stretch that leads to dead-on roll in the verses and the opening to that chorus above, singularly memorable as it is, and it’s followed by “Fang,” the chug and howl of which is immediately more severe, and which brings Sherman to the fore on vocals. “Prince of evil — that’s right” atop pure Sabbath lumbering, loyal to that first chug and plodding despite an ultimately middling pace.

“Fang” is the centerpiece of the CD, with six songs on either side, and a standout in marking a turning point to the second half of the record, with “Chaw” picking up instrumentally as a kind of intro to the rest of what follows, quick at just two minutes long, but “Melancholy Grey” answers with a moodier first half and it’s not until the solo section near the end that it seems to come out of it. That’s still in time for “Sea Legs” to answer the bikerism of “Chaw” in its lyrics — that is to say, in actually be about riding; “I’ve got a two-wheeled sled of molten chrome/A well done iguana and a real heavy gnome,” etc., the iguana and gnome being references by Wino to Isom and Sherman, respectively — and for the punker blast of “Kill Ugly Naked,” originally by The Obsessed.

That song dates back at least to The Obsessed‘s 1985 demo, but is a fit nonetheless with what surrounds owing to the richness of its tonality. By the time it gives way to the penultimate “Lost Sun Dance,” that richness becomes lush and methodically grooved, a highlight buried down near the end of the 13-track progression, but welcome just the same ahead of the acoustic intro to “No Hope Goat Farm,” which continues to flesh out layered in among the familiar fuzz in the otherwise unassuming, leave-’em-wanting-more finish, backed by a few seconds of silence not unlike those that preceded the entry of “Healing Tongue” back at the outset.

At 54 minutes, it’s fair to call Jug Fulla Sun a relic of the CD era. When Exile on Mainstream did a 15th anniversary vinyl issue in 2014, it was three-sided, so yeah. But, in light of the fact that this, the subsequent 1999 Dreamwheel EP (discussed here), 2001’s Elusive Truth and the 2002 So Mortal Be single were all the band put out in their time — MeteorCity‘s 2003 compilation, The Last Embrace, put it all together nicely — I’m more inclined to be grateful that the disc is packed than I am to think of it as a slog. The quality of the material helps there too.

Spirit Caravan were briefly revived in the middle of the last decade and I was fortunate enough to see them in 2015. That lineup, with WeinrichSherman and drummer Brian Costantino, would rebrand as The Obsessed for a time before bringing in bassist Reid Raley in place of Sherman, who by then was fronting Weed is Weed in addition to Earthride and who last year made a right on debut with Galactic Cross‘ self-titled LP (review here). The Obsessed, meanwhile, released Sacred (review here) on Relapse in 2017, and have continued to tour regularly, up to and including the co-headlining dates with The Skull that were announced yesterday. How’s that for timing?

Maybe their unsustainability is part of what makes Spirit Caravan so special, among the Wino oeuvre and otherwise. It’s a hard universe to live in and hard not to feel beaten down by it, but every now and again, the jug feels full.

This is must-have summer listening for me. As always, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

I was done with this week by Tuesday. Not in terms of productivity — it’s Friday morning and I’m still writing — but emotionally, existentially done. The rest of it has been little more than slog through mediocre Crock Pot chicken leftovers and do-what-you-can parenting. We got two afternoon naps this week, which was something, though it only emphasized how much The Pecan is still healing. Still mostly in the boot. The orthopedist said on Monday to ween him off over the course of this week, so that’s what we’ve been doing. Still on for school, speech, etc.

Stress. The Patient Mrs. bought some THC gummies. They have sugar in them so I won’t have any, but I do feel like I’m missing out in that. Xanax instead isn’t exactly slumming it, when I feel the need. Yesterday, for example.

Laundry to do.

I don’t know what’s up for this weekend. I’m keeping it in the back of my head to maybe go to Connecticut tomorrow to see The Patient Mrs.’ family and come back in the afternoon to be here for Sunday morning, but honestly I’m so beat that all I really want to do is go to bed. Doing that won’t eat up the day in the same way, and it’ll never happen, but ideally I’d be in bed for like a week or 10 and then at some point emerge a new person. Probably with atrophied legs, but all the spirit in the world.

The Patient Mrs. and I were on the couch the other day and I had a good eating disorder joke. The Pecan was holding in his poop, had been for days, because he doesn’t want to go in his diaper but is still to scared to drop it in the toilet (we’ll get there, but we’re not there yet). Of course he was wailing about it, because that kind of thing gets uncomfortable after a while — like five minutes — and I said to her, “I never would’ve thought that bulimia wouldn’t be the most dramatic thing about shit in my life.” She laughed. It was probably my best line of the week.

He had a decent morning this morning before we sent him off to school. Hopefully he gives them an easy time there as well. Everyone’s tired.

Raising a kid is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I worked hard at jobs, from retail through magazines through corporate. But this is a different level of investment in purpose. It’s everything. It’s up, it’s down, it’s all around in between, and you feel all of it. There’s no way to disconnect, to shut down the computer and go home. Work/life balance? Fuck you. Most days I get about 45 minutes a day watching Star Trek and even after that I usually run the dishwasher before going to bed so I can empty it in the morning. And the kid is not easy. He’s just not. This morning was like a gift. He’s been fighting me on everything. As soon as The Patient Mrs. comes in the room, he’s up her ass and any attempt to get him to do anything is countered by “mommy do it” or “daddy leave.” He won’t even sit on the toilet for me. I’m in the next room telling him good job while the two of them are in there sharing M&Ms. My experience as a father in a nutshell, or at very least a candy one that, contrary to marketing, indeed melts in your hands.

It’s been a rough few weeks. Months. I don’t see it getting easier anytime soon. I look at my nephews, who are 13, 10 and nine, and I know it’s only going to be harder. To think there will come a time when I’ll look back on his fractured skull and his broken leg and be like, “Ah, simpler days.” And at the end of it, what? Me dead? I don’t get it.

Absolute best case scenario for me as a parent is that I’m still the source of his emotional baggage for his entire life. That’s just a result of my own infertility, let alone anything I might actually have control over, like teaching him how to cope with or express emotions, which, frankly, he might as well go live in the woods and try to learn from the squirrels. More likely, I’m someone’s asshole dad. He’ll go and tell stories about his crazy shithead father and blow me off and that’ll be my life and that’s what I get because somewhere in me is some trauma and self-loathing that I’ve never gotten past and I’m accordingly a broken wreck of a person. Failure is the best I can do.

Then I do this shit on top of that, and for what exactly?

So yes, if you’d like to invest in my sugar-free cannabis edibles company, hit me up.

Maybe I could make weed-infused nut-butter while I’m at it.

On the other side of things, I heard four records this week — Delving, Lammping, Judas Knife and one I can’t talk about yet — that will be on my year-end list, and since “does music still sound good?” is my metric for life being worthwhile, I guess it must still be.

And I’m going to review the Colour Haze Los Sounds de Krauts reissue on Monday as an act of self-care. Sometimes you need that.

New Gimme show today at 5PM. Takk for listening if you do. https://gimmemetal.com

You go ahead and have yourself a great and safe weekend. Thanks for letting me rant. Have fun, watch your head, hydrate, enjoy the weather if it’s nice.

And thanks too if you’ve bought or are planning to buy Obelisk merch. That shit helps me keep my head up, for real. Validation beyond the couple bucks per item. So thanks.

FRM.

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The Obsessed and The Skull Announce Co-Headlining Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 10th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Hot damn, The Obsessed and The Skull, co-headlining at what could’ve easily been dubbed the ‘Champions of Doom Tour’ but sadly was not. Neither are expected to have a new record out by the end of July — The Skull‘s The Endless Road Turns Dark (review here) came out in 2018, and The Obsessed released the bootleg-style Live at Big Dipper (review here) last year — but hell, at least they’re both getting out. The dates arrive with a stopover for The Obsessed‘s Wino to play a solo set at Ripplefest Texas 2021, and there are a couple shows where the two bands part ways for the night.

You’ll also note on Aug. 1 they have matinee and evening shows in Indianapolis and Louisville. That’s about an hour and 45 minutes down I-65 from one town to the other. Oldschool in more than just sound here, it would seem.

The PR wire brought dates and I didn’t even have to type them out myself! Amazing:

the obsessed the skull tour

THE OBSESSED And THE SKULL: Doom Rock Icons Announce US Co-Headlining Tour; Tickets On Sale Now!

THE OBSESSED and THE SKULL will join forces for a US co-headlining tour this Summer. Set to commence July 29th in Cleveland, Ohio, the doom rock caravan will wind its way through nearly two-dozen cities, drawing to a close on August 16th in Rochester, New York. Tickets are on sale now. See all confirmed dates below.

THE OBSESSED/THE SKULL:
7/29/2021 Now That’s Class – Cleveland, OH **
7/30/2021 Club Garibaldi – Milwaukee WI
7/31/2021 Cobra Lounge – Chicago IL
8/01/2021 Black Circle – Indianapolis, IN (matinee show)
8/01/2021 Diamond Pub – Louisville, KY (evening show)
8/02/2021 Brickyard Bar – Knoxville, TN
8/03/2021 Growlers – Memphis, TN
8/04/2021 George’s Majestic – Fayetteville, AR
8/05/2021 Bears – Shreveport, LA
8/06/2021 Division Brewery/Grrowl – Arlington, TX
8/07/2021 White Oak Music Hall – Houston, TX ##
8/07/2021 Ripple Fest @ Texas Ski Ranch – New Braunfels, TX ^^
8/08/2021 Lost Well – Austin, TX
8/09/2021 White Oak Music Hall – Houston, TX **
8/10/2021 Freetown Boom Boom Room – Lafayette, LA **
8/10/2021 Santos – New Orleans, LA ##
8/11/2021 The Earl – Atlanta, GA
8/12/2021 Pour House – Raleigh, NC
8/13/2021 Cafe 611 – Frederick, MD
8/14/2021 GoldSounds – Brooklyn, NY
8/15/2021 Alchemy – Providence, RI
8/16/2021 Montage Music Hall – Rochester, NY
** THE OBSESSED only
## THE SKULL only
^^ WINO Solo

[poster by Gary Mader]

https://www.facebook.com/TheObsessedOfficial
http://relapse.com/the-obsessed-sacred/
https://theobsessed.bandcamp.com/
http://www.relapse.com
http://www.relapserecords.bandcamp.com
http://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords

https://www.facebook.com/troubletheskull/
https://twitter.com/theskullusa
http://theskullusa.com/
https://teepeerecords.com/

The Obsessed, Sacred (2017)

The Skull, “Ravenswood” official lyric video

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Spiral Grave Post New Video; Legacy of the Anointed Preorder Available

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 28th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

spiral grave

Maryland/Virginia doomers Spiral Grave follow-up on the February announcement that they’d signed to Argonauta Records with the art, details, and first audio from their upcoming debut album, Legacy of the Anointed. As the title hints, the band are clearly taking seriously the task before them in living up to the doomly inheritance of their three-fourths association with Iron Man, as well as that of paying homage to that band’s founding guitarist, “Iron” Al Morris III. No minor consideration. They’ve been working their way toward the LP basically since their inception a couple years back, and as a fan both of Iron Man and guitarist Willy Rivera‘s former outfit Lord, to say I’ve been looking forward to this one is something of an understatement.

The PR wire has it like this:

spiral grave legacy of the anointed

SPIRAL GRAVE Reveal Album Details And Share Brand New Music Video!

Maryland/Virginia- based doom metal veterans SPIRAL GRAVE have finally revealed more details about their upcoming album, entitled Legacy of the Anointed.

SPIRAL GRAVE, comprised of extraordinary vocalist Screaming Mad Dee, Iron Louis Strachan (bass), Mot Waldmann on drums and former LORD guitarist Willy Rivera, was born in 2018 after the tragic death of their longtime band mate, Alfred Morris III, founding member of iconic IRON MAN.

Setting the mood for a classic heavy as hell and in your face doom, SPIRAL GRAVE quickly carved a place for themselves in North America’s heavy music scene, playing well-received sets at New England Stoner Doom Fest or the Maryland Doomfest. Ever since the release of their first single, Nothing, in mid-2019, fans have been impatiently waiting for the band’s first full-length album. But finally, the wait is over: SPIRAL GRAVE’s Legacy of the Anointed will be out on July 16, 2021 through Italy’s powerhouse label Argonauta Records!

Today, SPIRAL GRAVE have released a first music video taken from their upcoming debut. Says vocalist “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun: “The song is based on the HP Lovecraft story “The Dunwich Horror,” and tells the first half of the story. It is meant to be a companion to the Iron Man track “Thy Brother’s Keeper (Dunwich pt. 2),” which appeared on the album South of the Earth.” Where the Iron Man track focused on Wilbur Whateley’s brother, “Nightmare” focuses on Wilbur himself.”

Watch SPIRAL GRAVE’s video for the epic album opening track, “Nightmare on May Eve (Dunwich pt. 1)”, here.

“Some of the musical ideas that ended up as songs on our debut were initially written while I was still with my previous band but with a rift growing between myself and the other members over personal and musical differences, I decided to hold onto them til I was able to find the right vehicle for them.“ Guitarist Willy Rivera recently said about SPIRAL GRAVE’s upcoming debut.

“I wanted to step away from the extremity of my former band and get back to writing songs that were heavy but had hooks and a strong vocal presence. For this band, I wanted to draw from bands such as Dio-era Sabbath, Candlemass, Metal Church, Armored Saint, Mountain, UFO and Judas Priest with enough experimentation that would allow us to branch out on future releases. I wanted that to be the template and I found like-minded friends in the surviving members of Iron Man. I’ve known Dee for over a decade and met Lou and Mot from the scene and affiliations and while I knew working with them would bring certain expectations due to the legendary status of Iron Man, I was hopeful in what we could create and had a gut feeling that it would be great. I was very aware of the fact that you only get one shot to make your 1st impression and being that I was writing a lot of the initial ideas, it meant that I had a lot to prove…not to mention, the scrutiny that I may encounter from people who perceived me as somehow trying to replace Al Morris but you can’t replace a legend so you just try to make your own mark. So Spiral Grave is a new band with a debut album that I think will do justice to not only the scene we come from but those who helped pave the way…“

Legacy of the Anointed Tracklist:
1. Nightmare on May Eve (Dunwich pt. 1)
2. Modern Day Golden Calf
3. Out Of My Head
4. Nothing
5. Your Enemy‘s Enemy
6. Walking Talking Dead Man
7. Tanglefoot
8. Abgrund

Legacy of the Anointed will be released on July 16, 2021 via Argonauta Records, the album pre-sale has just started at THIS LOCATION: https://www.argonautarecords.com/shop/

https://www.facebook.com/SpiralGrave/
https://spiralgrave.bandcamp.com/
www.argonautarecords.com
www.facebook.com/argonautarecords

Spiral Grave, “Nightmare on May Eve (Dunwich Pt. 1)” official video

Iron Man, “Half-Face/Thy Brother’s Keeper (Dunwich Pt. 2)”

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Friday Full-Length: Beelzefuzz, Beelzefuzz

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 26th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

The self-titled debut album from Chesapeake Watershed progressive doomers Beelzefuzz (review here) was issued in 2013 through The Church Within Records. I remember it feeling like it was an excruciatingly long wait for the album to show up, both from their earlier demos and also just the record itself. The first time I’d seen them was Days of the Doomed II (review here) for a short set in June 2012, then again at Stoner Hands of Doom XII (review here) about two and a half months later. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of Pale Divine), they made a formidably individualized impression on stage and on the demos they were giving away after that sampler set in Wisconsin (discussed here), Ortt‘s wide-eyed and effects-harmonized vocal conjurations, quirky style of riffing, and the guitar-as-organ sound that would become a Beelzefuzz trademark but never fully understood when it came to the eventual two albums they would release. If everyone could’ve seen them on stage, it all would have made a lot more sense.

I went back and looked over my review from when the eight-song/36-minute LP came out, and first of all, it was l-o-n-g. You think it takes me a long time to say what I’m trying to say now? Shit, right around 2012/2013, I apparently decided to take myself super-seriously and yeah. Wow. Anyway, digging through the verbiage, I at least acknowledged at the time that the album format inherently couldn’t capture the full impact of the band, since so much of the appeal was in watching Ortt‘s wizardry, backed as it was by the reliable and classic styling of McCloskey on drums, emphasizing the ’70s rock and prog elements of their doom. In 2013, I noted the album was full of promise, and I remember being particularly struck by how much heavier the guitar sounded than on the demos or live, that the chug in the final version of “All the Feeling Returns” carried more weight than it had initially, but fair enough. The album was full of promise. Listening to it now, I’m still a fan. I have a couple t-shirts somewhere.

It’s a shame on multiple levels that the band didn’t last, but among them is the fact that in this age of livestreaming and ready-made video-ness, they’d probably do pretty well playing “Reborn” or “Lotus Jam” or the seven-minute “Hypnotize” on whatever form of social media as a way to engage their fans. Ortt posts a solo track every now and again to Instagram and that’s cool, so maybe the band would’ve found a broader audience that way, but they also never really toured and didn’t seem inclined to do so, which is also fair. You’d probably have a hard time making a career out of Beelzefuzz. Silly name. Weird sound. Unless you’re ready to move to London, it’d be rough to make a go of it, and Beelzefuzz was well entrenched in Maryland doom. The fact that tBeelzefuzz Beelzefuzzhey stood out from so much of it was part of what made their debut so exciting. In a scene that prided itself on traditionalism and following in the riffy footsteps of WinoAl Morris III and others, Beelzefuzz represented a step aside from that in favor of something willfully fresh, still doom in its atmosphere and still plenty heavy — again, surprisingly so on this album — but ahead of its time in its proggier bent and standout songwriting.

A complicated series of events would eventually consume the band. You know all those killer ’70s heavy rock records that you listen to and think, “How was this band not huge?” Kind of the same thing here. Beelzefuzz fell first to a discord between Kirby and the other two players. I’ll spare you the links to all of this, but you should know they’re there. That split led to legal proceedings involving use of the name — imagine that for a second — and for a hot minute, that seemed like it was going to be the end of the band. Ortt and McCloskey regrouped as Righteous Bloom about a week later, and brought in Revelation/Against Nature bassist Bert Hall, Jr., and hell, that was exciting too. Hall is a low-end master and a rhythm section of him and McCloskey together was only going to result in warm, rolling groove excellently suited to Ortt‘s riffs. And it did.

Righteous Bloom began releasing tracks one at a time and eventually became Beelzefuzz again late in 2015. They brought in Greg DienerMcCloskey‘s bandmate in Pale Divine — and in 2016, released Beelzefuzz II: The Righteous Bloom (review here) through Candlelight imprint Restricted Release. Guess what? It was cool and didn’t get the attention it deserved. Maybe that fraught two years showed up a bit in their sound, the struggle and stress surrounding the band came through a bit in the songs, but not really. They showed a more progressive side of their songwriting and of course, solos from Diener were never going to hurt. Beelzefuzz simply rolled on.

They played here and there to support the album locally, in Maryland, Delaware, etc., and that was where their reputation was always based. I was fortunate enough to see their last show at Maryland Doom Fest 2019 (review here) and the love for them was palpable in that room in Cafe 611, Frederick, MD. A fitting sendoff if there had to be one.

The happy post-script to the 10-year run of Beelzefuzz is that Ortt wound up joining Diener and McCloskey in Pale Divine in time to contribute to last year’s Consequence of Time (review here), which was a doomly joy to behold, mixing the band’s longstanding traditionalist aspects with Ortt‘s quirk. That left Hall as the odd man out — Pale Divine already had an ace bassist/sometimes vocalist in Ron “Fezzy” McGinnis, late of Admiral Browning — but he’s apparently been working on solo material, as he’ll play April 10 at Cafe 611 with a bunch of others in a kind of early welcome-back-to-shows show. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about going.

Everyone’s alive, so there’s always a chance Beelzefuzz might decide to pick it back up and start anew, but even if that doesn’t happen, this record holds up easily to the eight years since it came out, and there’s nothing to make me think it won’t continue to do so as more time goes on.

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

This week was a blur of email anxiety. I had notes to send to the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch staff for the Roadburn Redux thing — you’d be AMAZED at the people who flaked — and requests for interviews for that, and PostWax liner notes emails and then a couple people want to interview me as if I have anything interesting to say other than to complain, plus I wasn’t sleeping and everything had that the-universe-is-awful sheen from my glazed eyes. I managed to do two decent interviews though; the one that went up with Oryx yesterday and one yesterday morning I did with Domkraft that I’m going to try to get up next week.

Next week, also, is the Quarterly Review. I know. I’m stupid. But the week works and I’ll get through it. Honestly, with the big release day that today is — Greenleaf, Genghis Tron, Yawning Sons, Shiva the Destructor, Wheel, 1782, The Quill, and others if that’s not enough; was enough for me to just put those first two in my Amazon cart — it’s I’m hoping news chills out a bit next week and I can focus on the 10-albums-per-day thing. With my luck, festivals will probably come back.

Does it matter? Nah. I’m small potatoes. Low stakes to everyone except me if I don’t post whatever that thing is until tomorrow.

I need to remind myself of that.

Took a break just now to rearrange some furniture with The Patient Mrs. in our living. An old hangover lamp down to the basement, move the new rug, new shelves for The Pecan’s toys in, and so on. We’re having company for dinner — Slevin, in fact, who you’ll remember is the lovely chap who helped make this site go live in the first place some 12-plus years ago — and his Special Lady. It’ll be nice. We’re supposed to grill and slated to have high winds this afternoon. If that means I smell like meat for the rest of the evening, I’ll take the hit. Maybe change my shirt before bed. Maybe.

My family will return next week here. The room I’m in now — we’ve called it ‘the big room’ for at least as long as I’ve been alive; recall this house belonged to my grandmother/grandfather — is our dining room, a door out from the kitchen added on to the original house during a period of what I’ll assume was prosperity for my grandparents. Its wood paneling, circular red fireplace, vinyl floor and back bar are very much in line with my own aesthetic. We spend a lot of time out here. We lit fires all winter. Somehow that feels important to me, though I know all nostalgia and sense of ‘connection’ to a thing is pretend at best and damaging at worst. The more you cling to, the more you lose, and so on.

Oh, I also got pitched on a book project compiling I guess some of the best stuff from around here the last 12 years? Kind of a bizarre idea, but it might actually happen given who’s behind it. If you have any thoughts on what should be included, I’m happy to take requests. I have no clue where to start or end.

No Gimme show this week. Next week. So it’s that, QR, maybe Domkraft interview video and an announcement Monday that I need to confirm. Plus I’m recording interviews where I’m being interviewed I think on Sunday and Thursday, and I’m interviewing Steve Von Till of Neurosis tomorrow for a thing, and I need to set up a line with Tau from Tau and the Drones of Praise for another thing, plus find a time to talk with Mat Bethancourt about Josiah coming back asap and then I expect by the time I get through all that and 10 reviews a day by the end of next Friday, plus The Pecan — whose fractured skull is fine, by the way, genuine thanks to everyone who expressed concern — I will have burst an embolism in my own brain and I’ll just be dead. Fine. It’s how I always wanted to go: overwhelmed.

Great and safe weekend. If it’s Spring where you are, enjoy Spring. Don’t forget to hydrate and watch your head.

FRM.

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Spiral Grave Sign to Argonauta Records; Legacy of the Anointed Coming Soon

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 23rd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

This one feels like it’s been a while in the making, and that’s very likely because it has. But the debut album from Spiral Grave, which features three of the four members of the final Iron Man lineup in vocalist Dee Calhoun, bassist “Iron” Louis Strachan and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann as well as former Lord guitarist Willy Rivera, will nonetheless be welcome when it arrives on June 5. The record is called Legacy of the Anointed — fair enough — and it’ll be issued through Argonauta, which has also overseen all of Calhoun‘s solo work to-date and will issue the Iron Man live album, Hail to the Riff, on March 5.

You might recall Spiral Grave was announced as a project in Jan. 2019, and quickly embraced by their native Maryland doom community. Their first single, “Nothing” (video premiere here), and a performance at Maryland Doom Fest 2019 (review here) and of course other shows led to 2020 bookings at Shadow WoodsNew England Stoner and Doom, and so on, but why even bother listing them because we all know what happened to 2020.

But hey, the record’s done and coming out, so there’s something to look forward to.

No audio yet, but Spiral Grave trickled out two singles last year on their Bandcamp and you can hear both of them below. I have no idea if they’ll be on Legacy of the Anointed or not.

From the PR wire:

spiral grave

The Return Of SPIRAL GRAVE: Long-Awaited Debut Album Coming This Year On Argonauta Records!

It feels like a legacy, but most likely a news that will make every doom heart beat faster: Members of the final lineup of doom legends IRON MAN, have announced their return with SPIRAL GRAVE!

SPIRAL GRAVE, comprised of vocalist Screaming Mad Dee, Iron Louis Strachan (bass), Mot Waldmann on drums and former LORD guitarist Willy Rivera – whose aggressive riffing sets the mood for the band’s heavy as hell, in your face doom – was born after the tragic death of IRON MAN founding member Alfred Morris III.

They quickly carved a place for themselves in North America’s heavy music scene, playing well-received sets at New England Stoner Doom Fest or the Maryland Doomfest. Their first single, Nothing, was released by Salt of the Earth Records in mid-2019. But finally the wait is over, since SPIRAL GRAVE have just announced to release their long- awaited debut album, entitled Legacy of the Anointed, in 2021 through Argonauta Records; the Italian powerhouse label and home for all that is heavy, who not only released Dee Calhoun’s recent solo records but also IRON MAN’s Hail To The Riff, due out on March 5th!

Says guitarist Willy Rivera about SPIRAL GRAVE’s upcoming debut:

“Some of the musical ideas that ended up as songs on our debut were initially written while I was still with my previous band but with a rift growing between myself and the other members over personal and musical differences, I decided to hold onto them til I was able to find the right vehicle for them. I wanted to step away from the extremity of my former band and get back to writing songs that were heavy but had hooks and a strong vocal presence. For this band, I wanted to draw from bands such as Dio-era Sabbath, Candlemass, Metal Church, Armored Saint, Mountain, UFO and Judas Priest with enough experimentation that would allow us to branch out on future releases. I wanted that to be the template and I found like-minded friends in the surviving members of Iron Man. I’ve known Dee for over a decade and met Lou and Mot from the scene and affiliations and while I knew working with them would bring certain expectations due to the legendary status of Iron Man, I was hopeful in what we could create and had a gut feeling that it would be great. I was very aware of the fact that you only get one shot to make your 1st impression and being that I was writing a lot of the initial ideas, it meant that I had a lot to prove…not to mention, the scrutiny that I may encounter from people who perceived me as somehow trying to replace Al Morris but you can’t replace a legend so you just try to make your own mark. So Spiral Grave is a new band with a debut album that I think will do justice to not only the scene we come from but those who helped pave the way…“

More details about the upcoming SPIRAL GRAVE release of Legacy of the Anointed, as well as first album tunes will follow in the weeks ahead.

https://www.facebook.com/SpiralGrave/
https://spiralgrave.bandcamp.com/
www.argonautarecords.com
www.facebook.com/argonautarecords

Spiral Grave, “Tanglefoot”

Spiral Grave, “Modern-Day Golden Calf”

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ukmedsnorx.com/zopiclone
ukmedsnorx.com/zolpidem

Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

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

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

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

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

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

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

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

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

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

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

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

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

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

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

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

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

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

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

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

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

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2021

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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