The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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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Mindcrawler: Lost Orbiter Vinyl Due Nov. 6

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 29th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Not really much of a surprise that someone picked up Mindcrawler‘s debut long-player, Lost Orbiter (review here), for release. Melodic, full-toned and ready for all the nodding-along you can handle and then some, the outing hit in February digitally, and that was just early enough to catch ears in and beyond the band’s native Germany before the entire year came crashing down. They were slated to appear at Keep it Low in their hometown of Munich next month, which of course would’ve opened doors at Sound of Liberation for them as they proceeded forward, but like everything else, their momentum in terms of live performances has been pushed back a year.

Still, the record rules, and Sound Effect Records in Greece makes a fitting home for the LP edition which is out Nov. 6. Preorders are up if that’s your thing, and there are two editions available. Not telling you how to spend your money, but I will casually advise you to — if you missed it earlier this year — to at least take a few minutes to dig into the stream of the album at the bottom of this post. Weaving into and out of instrumentalism, it’s one of my favorite debuts of 2020.

Info from the label:

mindcrawler lost orbiter

MINDCRAWLER – Lost Orbiter LP – Nov. 6

Preorder: https://www.soundeffect-records.gr/lost-orbiter

Past the Tannhäuser Gate, through the vortex of black holes and back to the dust of the Death Valley. Mindcrawler know the most remote places like the back of their hands. Since 2017 this space vehicle from the outskirts of Munich navigates the orbit of Bavaria’s Live Clubs and leaves only shattered stages behind wherever it goes. The four-piece band offers a mix of Space Rock, Stoner, Doom and Psych.

They pay tribute to the giants of Desert Rock while adding their own vision with transcendental meditation and riffs inspired by Punk and Metal. As of 2020 their transmission into the farthest regions of space and back has become even louder with the release of their highly acclaimed debut record “Lost Orbiter”.

This labor of love consists of six stunning tracks meticulously prepared to melt faces and start the engines for overdrive. As the current pandemic on planet Earth makes repeated listens within the confines of your own house all the more mandatory, Mindcrawler and Sound-Effect Records are proud to capture “Lost Orbiter” on mind boggling splatter-colored vinyl for the very first time. Fasten your seatbelts, dust off your moonboots and engage with one of this year’s biggest surprises within the realms of hard hitting Space infused Stoner Rock.

Lost Orbiter will be available through Soundeffect-Records with a limited run of 250 black vinyl and 150 limited splattered orange vinyl, each one will include a download code.

Mindcrawler are:
Joe – guitar|vocals
Helge – guitar
Tom – bass
Johannes – drums

http://www.facebook.com/Mindcrawler/
https://www.instagram.com/mindcrawler.band/
https://mindcrawler.bandcamp.com/
http://www.motljud.com/
https://www.soundeffect-records.gr/

Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter (2020)

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Days of Rona: Johannes from Mindcrawler

Posted in Features on May 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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

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

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

MINDCRAWLER JOHANNES

Days of Rona: Johannes from Mindcrawler (Munich, Germany)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band?

On a personal level, none of us has been hit particularly hard by the crisis, aside from having to stay at home for several weeks now. We are fortunate enough that all of us have jobs or studies that can be done from home. So in all, and aside from growing boredom and cabin fever, the impact has been pretty mild on that front.

However, as a band, we weren’t able to get together and play for weeks either, which is a huge bummer. Mainly because we have a ton of new material we were planning to turn into songs, in preparation of future releases and gigs. So this came to a screeching halt for now. On the flipside though, each of us has been creative from home. Writing more material, playing around with new stuff, e.g. synthie sounds and some visual shenanigans. So I guess, in the long run, we are all set.

At the moment, we are hoping that the crisis will fade away quickly. We have some significant gigs lined up for the fall and it would be a shame if those would fall through.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

Corona restrictions in Munich (as in the whole of Bavaria) have been pretty harsh in the beginning. Practically nobody was allowed to even leave the house aside from some reduced sporting activities and the like. These have been enforced pretty consistently, too. So there has been a good month or so of strictly having to stay at home. However, this has been relaxed to some extent by now. For instance, we are now allowed to meet with “one person from another household”, which is nice (but does not help much in terms of playing together as a band).

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

I think the music community has responded in a good way, at least in Munich. There has been plans to stream concerts without audiences, and there is some solidarity stuff going on. We feel sorry for all the hardworking, beautiful people who, in normal times, organize all the concerts and other creative offerings. They are really hit hard by this crisis, and I feel that, on top of that, they are largely left alone by the government. Honestly, I’m not sure I would be able to handle the uncertainty they are facing right now. In addition, we are not sure how the ripple effects of that will affect smaller or “semi-professional” musicians and their ability to play in the long run.

As mentioned before, for Mindcrawler, our creative process moved from a collective effort as a band to more individual efforts at home. Still, I would say we are rather inspired as a whole. I guess the good side of being stuck at home is that you pick up the guitar more often, or engage in stuff you were kinda putting off for some time (like synthies or visuals).

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

First and foremost: Stay safe, practice social distancing, wear your face masks! The more responsibly we as a community act now, the faster this shitty situation will be over.

Aside from this, we miss being on stage, and engaging with all those wonderful people in the stoner/doom scene in general. We are lucky enough that the reactions to our first release Lost Orbiter have been very kind, so we are eager to give some of the kindness back to all of you. In a first step, we are very happy that we signed a record deal with Sound Effect Records, so people will see the album released on vinyl fairly soon.

In addition, we are very eager to get back together as band and write new songs, and more importantly, to go out and play them!

http://www.facebook.com/Mindcrawler/
https://www.instagram.com/mindcrawler.band/
https://mindcrawler.bandcamp.com/
http://www.motljud.com/
https://www.soundeffect-records.gr/

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Quarterly Review: Ocean Chief, Barnabus, Helen Money, Elder Druid, Mindcrawler, Temple of Void, Lunar Swamp, Huge Molasses Tank Explodes, Emile, Saturno Grooves

Posted in Reviews on March 27th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

I’m not saying I backloaded the Quarterly Review or anything — because I didn’t — but maybe subconsciously I wanted to throw in a few releases here I had a pretty good idea I was gonna dig beforehand. Pretty much all of them, as it turned out. Not a thing I regret happening, though, again, neither was it something I did purposefully. Anyone see A Serious Man? In this instance, I’m happy to “accept the mystery” and move on.

Before we dive into the last day, of course I want to say thank you for reading if you have been. If you’ve followed along all week or this is the only post you’ve seen or you’re just here because I tagged your band in the post on Thee Facebooks, whatever it is, it is appreciated. Thank you. Especially given the global pandemic, your time and attention is highly valued.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Ocean Chief, Den Tredje Dagen

ocean chief den tredje dagen

The first Ocean Chief record in six years is nothing if not weighted enough to make up for anything like lost time. Also the long-running Swedish outfit’s debut on Argonauta Records, Den Tredje Dagen on CD/DL runs five songs and 59 minutes, and though it’s not without a sense of melody either instrumentally or vocally — certainly its guitars have plenty enough to evoke a sense of mournfulness at least — its primary impact still stems from the sheer heft of its tonality, and its tracks are of the sort that a given reviewer might be tempted to call “slabs.” They land accordingly, the longest of them positioned as the centerpiece “Dömd” seething with slower-Celtic Frost anxiety and the utter nastiness of its intent spread across 15-plus minutes of let-me-just-go-ahead-and-crush-that-for-you where “that” is everything and “no” isn’t taken for an answer. There’s respite in closer “Den Sista Resan” and the CD-bonus “Dimension 5,” but even these maintain an atmospheric severity consistent with what precedes them. One way or another, it is all fucking destroyed.

Ocean Chief on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records store

 

Barnabus, Beginning to Unwind

barnabus beginning to unwind

Come ye historians and classic heavy rockers. Come, reap what Rise Above Relics has sown. Though it’s hard sometimes not to think of the Rise Above Records imprint as label-honcho Lee Dorrian (ex-Cathedral, current With the Dead) picking out highlights from his own record collection — which is the stuff of legend — neither is that in any way a problem. Barnabus, who hailed and apparently on occasion still hail from the West Midlands in the UK, issued the Beginning to Unwind in 1972 as part of an original run that ended the next year. So it goes. Past its 10-minute jammy opener/longest track (immediate points) “America,” the new issue of Beginning to Unwind includes the LP, demos, live tracks, and no doubt assorted other odds and ends as well from Barnabus‘ brief time together. Songs like “The War Drags On” and “Resolute” are the stuff of ’70s-riff daydreams, while “Don’t Cry for Me My Lady” digs into proto-prog without losing its psych-folk inflection. I’m told the CD comes with a 44-page booklet, which only furthers the true archival standard of the release.

Barnabus on Thee Facebooks

Rise Above Relics store

 

Helen Money, Atomic

helen money atomic

To those for whom Helen Money is a familiar entity, the arrival of a new full-length release will no doubt only be greeted with joy. The ongoing project of experimental cellist Alison Chesley, though the work itself — issued through Thrill Jockey as a welcome follow-up to 2016’s Become Zero (review here) — is hardly joyful. Coping with the universality of grief and notions of grieving-together with family, Chesley brings forth minimalism and electronics-inclusive stylstic reach in kind across the pulsating “Nemesis,” the periodic distortion of her core instrument jarring when it hits. She takes on a harp for “Coppe” and the effect is cinematic in a way that seems to find answer on the later “One Year One Ring,” after which follows the has-drums “Marrow,” but wherever Chesley goes on Atomic‘s 47 minutes, the overlay of mourning is never far off.

Helen Money on Thee Facebooks

Thrill Jockey Records store

 

Elder Druid, Golgotha

elder druid golgotha

Belfast dual-guitar sludge five-piece Elder Druid return with seven tracks/39 minutes of ready punishment on their second album, Golgotha, answering the anger of 2017’s Carmina Satanae with densely-packed tones and grooves topped with near-universal harsh vocals (closer “Archmage” is the exception). What they’re playing doesn’t require an overdose of invention, with their focus is so much on hammering their riffs home, and certainly the interwoven leads of the title-track present some vision of intricacy for those who might demand it while also being punched in the face, and the transitional “Sentinel,” which follows,” brings some more doomly vibes ahead of “Vincere Vel Mori,” which revives the nod, “Dreadnought” has keys as well as a drum solo, and the penultimate “Paegan Dawn of Anubis” brings in an arrangement of backing vocals, so neither are they void of variety. At the feedback-soaked end of “Archmage,” Golgotha comes across genuine in its aggression and more sure of their approach than they were even just a couple years ago.

Elder Druid on Thee Facebooks

Elder Druid on Bandcamp

 

Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter

mindcrawler lost orbiter

I know the whole world seems like it’s in chaos right now — mostly because it is — but go ahead and quote me on this: a band does not come along in 2020 and put out a record like Lost Orbiter and not get picked up by some label if they choose to be. Among 2020’s most promising debuts, it is progressive without pretense, tonally rich and melodically engaging, marked out by a poise of songcraft that speaks to forward potential whether it’s in the coursing leads of “Drake’s Equation” or the final slowdown/speedup of “Trappist-1” that smoothly shifts into the sample at the start of closer “Dead Space.” Mindcrawler‘s first album — self-recorded, no less — is modern cosmic-heavy brought to bear in a way that strikes such a balance between the grounded and the psychedelic that it should not be ignored, even in the massively crowded international underground from which they’re emerging. And the key point there is they are emerging, and that as thoughtfully composed as the six tracks/29 minutes of Lost Orbiter are, they only represent the beginning stages of what Mindcrawler might accomplish. If there is justice left, someone will release it on vinyl.

Mindcrawler on Thee Facebook

Mindcrawler on Bandcamp

 

Temple of Void, The World That Was

Temple of Void The World that Was

Michigan doom-death five-piece Temple of Void have pushed steadily toward the latter end of that equation over their now-three full-lengths, and though The World That Was (their second offering through Shadow Kingdom) is still prone to its slower tempos and is includes the classical-guitar interlude “A Single Obulus,” that stands right before “Leave the Light Behind,” which is most certainly death metal. Not arguing with it, as to do so would surely only invite punishment. The extremity only adds to the character of Temple of Void‘s work overall, and as “Casket of Shame” seems to be at war with itself, so too is it seemingly at war with whatever manner of flesh its working so diligently to separate from the bone. Across a still-brief 37 minutes, The World That Was — which caps with its most-excellently-decayed nine-minute title-track — harnesses and realizes this grim vision, and Temple of Void declare in no uncertain terms that no matter how they might choose to tip the scale on the balance of their sound, they are its master.

Temple of Void on Thee Facebooks

Shadow Kingdom Records store

 

Lunar Swamp, Shamanic Owl

Lunar Swamp Shamanic Owl

Lunar Swamp have spawned as a blusier-directed offshoot of Italian doomers Bretus of which vocalist Mark Wolf, guitarist/bassist Machen and drummer S.M. Ghoul are members, and sure enough, their debut single “Shamanic Owl,” fosters this approach. As the band aren’t strangers to each other, it isn’t such a surprise that they’d be able to decide on a sound and make it happen their first time out but the seven-minute roller — also the leadoff their first EP, UnderMudBlues, which is due on CD in June — also finds time to work in a nod to the central riff of Sleep‘s “Dragonaut” along with its pointed worship of Black Sabbath, so neither do they seems strictly adherent to a blues foundation, despite the slide guitar that works its way in at the finish. How the rest of the EP might play out need not be a mystery — it’s out digitally now — but as far as an introduction goes, “Shamanic Owl” will find welcome among those seeking comfort in the genre-familiar.

Lunar Swamp on Thee Facebooks

Lunar Swamp on Bandcamp

 

Huge Molasses Tank Explodes, II

Huge Molasses Tank Explodes II

The nine-track/42-minute second LP, II, from Milano post-this-or-that five-piece Huge Molasses Tank Explodes certainly finds the band earning bonus points based on their moniker alone, but more than that, it is a work of reach and intricacy alike, finding the moment where New Wave emerged from out of krautrock’s fascination with synthesizer music and bring to that a psychedelic shimmer that is too vintage-feeling to be anything other than modern. It is laid back enough in its overarching affect that “The Run” feels dreamy, most especially in its guitar lines, but never is it entirely at rest, and both the centerpiece “No One” and the later “So Much to Lose” help continue the momentum that “The Run” manages so fluidly to build in a manner one might liken to space rock were the implication of strict adherence to stylistic guidelines so implicit in that categorization. They present this nuance with a natural-seeming sense of craft and in “High or Low,” a fuzzy tone that feels like only a welcome windfall. Those who can get their head around it should seek to do so, and kudos to Huge Molasses Tank Explodes for being more than just a clever name.

Huge Molasses Tank Explodes on Thee Facebooks

Retro Vox Records on Bandcamp

 

Emile, The Black Spider/Det Kollektive Selvmord

Emile The Black Spider Det Kollektive Selvmord

Set to release through Heavy Psych Sounds on the same day as the new album from his main outfit The Sonic Dawn, The Black Spider/Det Kollective Selvmord is the debut solo album from Copenhagen-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Emile Bureau, who has adopted his first name as his moniker of choice. Fair enough for the naturalism and intended intimacy of the 11-track/39-minute outing, which indeed splits itself between portions in English and in Danish, sounding likewise able to bring together sweet melodies in both. Edges of distortion in “Bundlos” and some percussion in the second half’s title-track give a semblance of arrangement to the LP, but at the core is Emile himself, his vocals and guitar, and that’s clearly the purpose behind it. Where The Sonic Dawn often boast a celebratory feel, The Black Spider/Det Kollective Selvmord is almost entirely subdued, and its expressive sensibility comes through regardless of language.

Emile on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds store

 

Saturno Grooves, Cosmic Echoes

saturno grooves cosmic echoes

Sonic restlessness! “Fire Dome” begins with a riffy rush, “Forever Zero” vibes out on low end and classic swing, the title-track feels like an Endless Boogie jam got lost in the solar system, “Celestial Tunnel” is all-thrust until it isn’t at all, “Blind Faith” is an acoustic interlude, and “Dark Matter” is a punk song. Because god damn, of course it is. It is little short of a miracle Saturno Grooves make their second album, Cosmic Echoes as remarkably cohesive as it is, yet through it all they hold fast to class and purpose alike, and from its spacious outset to its bursting finish, there isn’t a minute of Cosmic Echoes that feels like happenstance, even though they’re obviously following one impulse after the next in terms of style. Heavy (mostly) instrumentalism that works actively not to be contained. Out among the echoes, Saturno Grooves might just be finding their own wavelength.

Saturno Groove on Thee Facebooks

LSDR Records store

 

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 30

Posted in Radio on March 20th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

There’s some stuff here that was recently premiered — Moura, King Buffalo, the Thunderbird Divine track that went up today — but I’m also bringing in a few things from the Quarterly Review that I’ve got slated for next week. That’s stuff I haven’t had the chance to write about yet like Mindcrawler and Lemurian Folk Songs, Ritual King and Dystopian Future Movies. I know I’m biased here and I always say this — if you dig back through the old podcasts, I used to say it about those too, but I think it’s a pretty good show.

It was a little weird cutting voice tracks for it yesterday though, I’ll say that. Yeah, it’s awesome new music and that’s always great to be excited about, but it feels a little lightweight to be stoked on cool songs when there’s a pandemic on and obviously bigger issues at play. The way I look at it is music is ultimately that escape that people need and if I can maybe give someone something they haven’t heard before and might dig, then I guess that’s not nothing. It ain’t driving a truck for Meals on Wheels when it comes to lending a hand — I should be doing that shit, as should we all, all the time — but it’s what I’ve got, anyhow.

Thanks for listening if you do, and if you see this and don’t listen, then thanks just for reading.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today at http://gimmeradio.com

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 03.20.20

Moura Ronda das Mafarricas Moura*
Dozer Rising Call it Conspiracy (2020 Reissue)*
Lord Fowl Fire Discipline Glorious Babylon*
Ritual King Dead Roads Ritual King*
BREAK
Thunderbird Divine The Hand of Man The Hand of Man*
Mindcrawler Dead Space Lost Orbiter*
Elder Omens Omens*
Arbouretum Let it All In Let it All In*
BREAK
Dystopian Future Movies Countenance Inviolate*
Lord Buffalo Raziel Tohu Wa Bohu*
Lemurian Folk Songs Logos Logos*
Sorcia Stars Collide Sorcia*
BREAK
King Buffalo Red Star Pt. 1 & 2 Dead Star EP*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is April 3 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Keep it Low 2020 Adds Samsara Blues Experiment, Yawning Man, Last Rizla, Chang & Mindcrawler

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 20th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

keep it low 2020 banner

Calling it right now: there’s gonna be a new Samsara Blues Experiment album out by the time they get to Munich for the 2020 edition of Keep it Low Festival. Do I know that? Hell no. Not at all. I have no such knowledge, and even if I did — mind you I don’t, at all, really; that’s not me being coy, I actually don’t fucking know — but they’re not a band who just get out and do fests on a whim. Now, I don’t necessarily know if they’ll be on tour for four weeks and hit all the Euro fests happening at that time, whereas I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Yawning Man pop up on other lineups in addition to this one — I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a new record out too, while I’m thinking about it — but it was late-2018 when they said they were getting to work on a follow-up to 2017’s One with the Universe (review here), so it doesn’t at all seem unreasonable to think that record will come to fruition by this Fall.

I don’t know that. But I’m calling it now. If it doesn’t happen, I probably won’t remind you that I said it would. Ha.

Greece’s Last Rizla and Germany’s Chang and Mindcrawler have also signed on to play, and you’ll find the full announcement from the fest below. You’ll note there’s no mention of a new Samsara Blues Experiment album. Nothing: that’s exactly what they would say if it was going to happen.

From thee social medias:

Keepers,

We know that October is quite far away, but we just can’t help it! It’s our pleasure to welcome 5 more killer acts to Keep It Low Festival 2020!

Samsara Blues Experiment (GER)
Yawning Man (US)
Last Rizla (GRE)
Chang (GER)
Mindcrawler (GER)

We hope you like this announcement as much as we do!

2-day tickets are selling fast and there aren’t many left, so don’t sleep on that and get yours here:

Tickets available here:

https://www.sol-tickets.com/produkte/51-tickets-keep-it-low-festival-2020-feierwerk-area-muenchen-am-09-10-2020

https://woolheads.com/product/keep-it-low-festivalticket-weekend-2020

https://www.eventim.de/artist/keep-it-low-festival/

https://www.facebook.com/events/975025036197960/
https://www.facebook.com/keepitlowfestival/
https://www.keepitlow.de/
https://www.soundofliberation.com/

Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe (2017)

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