Om Touring in February / March with Wovenhand

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 14th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

om

I cannot stress enough how much you should own Om‘s BBC Radio 1 (review here). Yes, it’s a double 10-inch vinyl, and I’m perfectly willing to admit that that’s kind of a silly thing when it would’ve fit on a single 12-inch platter, but face it, you’re going to listen to the download anyway, so quitcherbitchin and get on board. I’m only trying to make your life better by telling you this.

Do I think it’s a coincidence that Om have announced tour dates the same week that bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros‘ other band — they’re called Sleep, you know — have announced a hiatus? I don’t know. Probably? They’ll have Wovenhand out with them though, as they did on a tour leading to Monolith on the Mesa earlier this year, so if you want to think of this as a fuller leg of that run, go for it. Om have toured pretty steadily over the time that Cisneros has been/was involved in Sleep again, so it’s not like it’s some sudden resurgence or anything.

Of course, the big question is when/if/whether there will be a new album out next year, and if this tour might preface or accompany or otherwise somehow relate to that possibility. I have no insight on the matter other than to say, “golly, that sure would be nice,” so yeah, no insight at all basically. Shrug.

Go see Om. And buy that goddamn live record.

Dates:

om tour poster

OM Live:
12/14/19 Pioneer Works Brooklyn NY
2/21/20 Mohawk Austin TX w/ Wovenhand
2/22/20 Gas Monkey Bar & Grill Dallas TX w/ Wovenhand
2/24/20 George’s Majestic Lounge Fayetteville AR w/ Wovenhand
2/25/20 Growlers Memphis TN w/ Wovenhand
2/26/20 Saturn Birmingham AL w/ Wovenhand
2/27/20 Terminal West Atlanta GA w/ Wovenhand
2/28/20 Grey Eagle Asheville NC w/ Wovenhand
2/29/20 Motorco Chapel Hill NC w/ Wovenhand
3/2/20 Black Cat Washington DC w/ Wovenhand
3/3/20 Underground Arts Philadelphia PA w/ Wovenhand
3/5/20 The Sinclair Cambridge MA w/ Wovenhand
3/6/20 Columbus Theatre Providence RI w/ Wovenhand
3/8/20 Spirit Hall w/ Wovenhand
3/9/20 Grog Shop Cleveland Heights OH w/ Wovenhand
3/11/20 Headliners Music Hall Louisville KY w/ Wovenhand
3/12/20 The Pyramid Scheme Grand Rapids MI w/ Wovenhand
3/13/20 Garfield Park Conservatory Chicago IL w/ Wovenhand
3/16/20 Fine Line Minneapolis MN w/ Wovenhand
3/17/20 Wooly’s Des Moines IA w/ Wovenhand
3/18/20 Slowdown Omaha NE w/ Wovenhand
3/19/20 The Bottleneck Lawrence ks w/ Wovenhand
3/20/20 89th Street Oklahoma City OK w/ Wovenhand
3/21/20 Sister Albuquerque NM w/ Wovenhand

OM lineup:
Al Cisneros
Emil Amos
Tyler Trotter

https://www.facebook.com/om.band
https://omband.bandcamp.com/
http://www.omvibratory.com/
https://www.dragcity.com/

Om, Live in Copenhagen, Denmark, July 31, 2019

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 24

Posted in Radio on November 8th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

It’s been forever since there was an episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio, but I’m glad to say that there was never any chance of it not continuing eventually. At least not one that I was told about — ha. Gimme had a bunch of specials booked, and well, if it’s me or the dude from Enslaved, or really anybody, I can’t really put up much of a fight that I should be given preference. I’m the dude who plays heavy rock on a metal station, and I’ve got a pretty good timeslot to do it. Yeah, I’m gonna get picked off in favor of special episodes. No worries. I kind of needed a break anyway.

So maybe think of this as the start of Season 2 of The Obelisk Show. I know that all the The Next Generation-era Star Trek shows operated with 24-episode seasons, but I don’t think anyone will begrudge me one fewer. Enterprise might’ve had a 23-episode season somewhere in there. I’d have to check. Either way, Season 2 picks up pretty much where Season 1 left off: a butt-load of new music and me nerding out about Colour Haze.

I talk a bit about the Høstsabbat fest in Norway that I went to last month, give the Brume record a plug and am a total geek for Al Cisneros’ bass tone on that new Om live release, so yes, pretty much the show is getting caught up with what’s been going on around here while it was off the air. A bit of shaking off the rust, but the playlist rules and I tried not to screw it all up too badly on mic. I haven’t heard the finished product yet, so we’ll see if it was a success. In any case, I hope you dig it.

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs at 1PM Eastern today.

Listen at: http://www.gimmeradio.com

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 11.08.19

 

All Them Witches 1×1 1×1* 0:05:51
Ufomammut Satan XX* 0:03:12
Colour Haze Tempel Tempel 0:08:30
BREAK
Brume Scurry Rabbits* 0:10:58
Kadavar Children of the Night For the Dead Travel Fast* 0:05:59
The Lone Madman Häxan Let the Night Come* 0:07:29
Ogre King of the Wood Thrice as Strong* 0:05:41
Orodruin Letter of Life’s Regret Ruins of Eternity* 0:05:14
BREAK
Monolord Larvae No Comfort* 0:09:38
Bask Rid of You III* 0:04:40
Grin Helix Translucent Blades* 0:05:23
Om State of Non-Return BBC Radio 1* 0:08:22
Deaf Radio Dance Like a Reptile Modern Panic* 0:04:19
Devil to Pay 37 Trillion Forever, Never or Whenever* 0:03:10
BREAK
Clouds Taste Satanic Second Sight Second Sight 0:20:21
Total runtime: 1:48:47

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Friday at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is Nov. 22. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Om, BBC Radio 1: Sing the Advaitic

Posted in Reviews on October 23rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Om BBC Radio 1

Some seven years ago, in 2012, Om issued their fifth full-length, Advaitic Songs (review here), through Drag City and thereby secured a place high among the decade’s best releases. Though founding bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros has split time in the years since between Om and the ongoing reunion of landmark stoner metallers Sleep, the album has continued to hold its audience, and its influence continues to spread to other acts on multiple continents. It was the kind of offering upon which legacies are made, and the new live recording BBC Radio 1 (also Drag City) is a reminder of that, even if only half its inclusions are actually from Advaitic Songs itself. Those songs, “Gethsemane” and “State of Non-Return,” are enough to get the point across on the limited gatefold double-10″ vinyl outing, and paired with “Cremation Ghat I” and “Cremation Ghat II” from 2009’s God is Good (review here) it is stirring and hypnotic in kind, the kind of release that makes you wish it was longer than its all-too-brief 29-minute run.

Om‘s lineup has shifted since Advaitic Songs. While that record marked the introduction of LichensRobert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (who had also appeared on God is Good) as a full member handling keys, percussion, vocals, etc., earlier in 2019, Cisneros and longtime drummer Emil Amos (also Grails, Holy Sons, and so on) brought in Tyler Trotter as the third member, and it was this incarnation of the band that recorded BBC Radio 1 at the British Broadcasting Company‘s studio in London’s upscale Maida Vale neighborhood, with its quietly old-money residences, tree-lined city streets and small but welcoming coffee/tea shops. The tracking was done on May 3, which was just a couple weeks before Om toured the Southwest ahead of playing Monolith on the Mesa, and about two months ahead of their Summer 2019 European tour, which included stops at Lake on Fire in Austria and SonicBlast Moledo in Portugal, but if hitting the BBC studio was the only reason Om made the trip abroad, one can hardly fault their logic in doing so. The results are little short of immaculate.

That sounds like hyperbole, and maybe it is, but you have to believe me when I say that this recording of “State of Non-Return” features if not the best then certainly one of the top three bass tones I’ve ever heard. I’m a sucker for bass tone anyway, and Cisneros is a master of low-end warmth, but for the tidal surge kick-in of distortion on the second track here alone, BBC Radio 1 is worth whatever Drag City want to charge for it. I’m dead serious. This isn’t a live release like something captured on someone’s phone at a random show. This is a professionally-recorded, in-studio offering of a band performing their work. It is a true documentation of their sound with album-quality fidelity and live performance. And I’m not going to take away from the dream-state sway beginnings of “Gethsemane” or Amos‘ drumming on “Cremation Ghat I” or the texture Trotter seamlessly weaves into the songs via keyboard throughout, but even on Om‘s earlier albums, when it was just bass/drums/vocals and so each of those elements was all the more showcased, I don’t know if the bass ever sounded so rich. If they put it out as an isolated track on its own — a bonus download or “dubplate” or whatever — I’d buy it happily. I mean it.

om

Opening with “Gethsemane” leads the way down the path. Its beginning is like a guided breathing exercise to clear the mind, and what unfolds from there in the wash of crash cymbals, the ping of ride, the pop of snare, the softly flowing bassline and the chant-like keyboard ahead of the first verse is duly immersive. Cisneros‘ voice arrives like a pilgrim one might meet in the wilderness, some kind of spiritual seeker who knows the place, can show the way toward safe passage while telling you stories that happen in dimensions most people can’t perceive. So you set off. Amos‘ drums are the footsteps, Trotter‘s keys the ground, and “Gethsemane” is both journey and destination. At 11 minutes, it’s both opener and longest inclusion (immediate points) on BBC Radio 1, and its sense of grace isn’t to be understated, nor the fluidity with which it feeds into “State of Non-Return,” which at 8:22 is two minutes longer than on Advaitic Songs, but still unfurls the aforementioned distortion about 45 seconds into the proceedings. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if they wanted to make the song last another 10 minutes, that’d be welcome as well. If it’s two, okay. I’ll take that.

Though it’s shorter than “Gethsemane” and backed up by “Cremation Ghat I” and “Cremation Ghat II,” “State of Non-Return” is an obvious focal point on BBC Radio 1 for its shift in tone and relative rhythmic push. Even putting aside the glorious rumble of Cisneros‘ making, it radiates energy as delivered here and presents a subtle momentum leading out of the first 10″ and en route to the second, which houses the final two tracks, one per side. “Cremation Ghat I” holds some of the momentum forth in Amos‘ drumming and the winding bassline that accompanies, but its run is brief at 3:51 and mostly instrumental, so the vibe has shifted accordingly, as, one supposes, it would have to. This leads to the drone-backed “Cremation Ghat II,” longer at 5:37, which closes out in perhaps giving some sense of arrival at the place to which the beginning of “Gethsemane” was setting off. Maybe (definitely) that’s putting too simplistic a narrative to it, and maybe the journey and destination are the same thing. I wouldn’t know. Maybe the sense of “going somewhere” is wrong altogether and the point is to be still.

But take from it either way that especially for a live recording, BBC Radio 1 is evocative in a way that allows for these kinds of varying interpretations. Certainly one would expect that the BBC knows what it’s doing in capturing a band playing, but it’s worth emphasizing this isn’t just performance-to-tape. It’s museum-quality. It’s a document of Om in 2019 and, for anyone who may have needed it, an underscore to the effect the band have had on the course of heavy over this decade which, one assumes, will only continue to spread into the next. Advaitic Songs is long since due for a follow-up, but BBC Radio 1 earns its place in Om‘s pantheon through its methodical, patient and serene atmosphere, showcasing Om as a band of singular, unmatched resonance. Recommended.

Om on Thee Facebooks

Om on Bandcamp

Om website

Drag City website

Drag City on Thee Facebooks

Drag City on Bandcamp

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Om Heading Back to Europe This Summer; Monolith on the Mesa This Week

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

om

This week, Om embark on a Southwestern tour (it’s spicier) alongside Wovenhand that will pass through the Monolith on the Mesa festival in Taos, New Mexico, on Friday, May 17, where Om will headline. It’s been a busy year so far for them. They’re fresh off a quick trip to Europe for Desertfest in London and Berlin as well as two shows in Oslo and one in Stockholm, and in February, they toured the West Coast as well. Newly unveiled summer plans reveal they’ll be back in Europe throughout July and August — they’d been announced for SonicBlast Moledo and Lake on Fire, so yeah, a tour makes sense — and as posted by Odyssey Booking (which put together the European tour), they would seem to have a new lineup with Tyler Trotter taking the multi-instrumentalist role formerly occupied by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. I have no clue if that’s a permanent change or what, but it would seem to have been Trotter with Al Cisneros and Emil Amos at Desertfest, so there you go.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed that autumn brings Om east, more specifically northeast, even more specifically to my house for a nice Sunday brunch, but of course, if they wanted to go ahead and spend that time finishing a new album, it would be hard to complain about that.

Dates follow, as seen on social media:

om summer tour

OM / Wovenhand
Southwest 2019 tour
5/15/2019 Mesa, AZ The Nile
5/16/2019 Flagstaff, AZ Green Room
5/17/2019 Taos, NM Monolith at the Mesa
5/18/2019 Grand Junction, CO Mesa Theater
5/19/2019 Denver, CO Gothic Theater

OM European summer tour 2019 dates announced! Tickets now onsale for all shows

26-07 DE Karlsruhe @ Jubez
27-07 NL Utrecht @ Tivoli – Pandora
28-07 DE Dortmund @ FZW
30-07 DE Bremen @ Tower
31-07 DK Copenhagen @ Pumpehuset
01-08 DE Leipzig @ UT Connewitz
02-08 PL Katowice @ OFF festival
03-08 AT Waldhausen @ Lake On Fire fest
04-08 HU Budapest @ Durer Kert
06-08 CH Zurich @ Bogen F
07-08 IT Livorno @ Fortezza Vechia
08-08 IT Milan @ Magnolia
10-08 PT Moledo @ Sonic Blast
12-08 CH Valais @ Palp festival – Rocklette

OM – 2019 lineup:
Al Cisneros
Emil Amos
Tyler Trotter

https://www.facebook.com/om.band
http://www.omvibratory.com/
https://www.facebook.com/odysseybooking/

Om, Live in Los Angeles, Feb 28, 2019

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Monolith on the Mesa Lineup Confirmed; Om, Dead Meadow, Wovenhand, The Obsessed, Cloud Catcher & More to Play

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 25th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

monolith on the mesa banner

So, uh, you wanna go get weird in the desert for a weekend? Sure, we all do. And if you’re up for making it the trip of a lifetime, Monolith on the Mesa has a bunch of decked-out vintage trailers available for you to hide from the New Mexico sun while you wait for the show to start. From the pre-party to The Obsessed headlining the second day, the inaugural edition of Monolith on the Mesa looks like the stuff of pilgrimage dreams. Om and Dead Meadow? Wovenhand? Tia Carrera jamming in a brewery? Duel? It’s an obviously curated lineup very purposefully put together with the setting in mind, and whether it’s the indoor or outdoor stage, it’s easy to see where it has the potential to be an incredible time. I’ve gone on at some length about the growth of US festival culture over the course of this decade. Look no further if you need an example of the fruit that would seem to be bearing.

If you make it down, congratulations on your life. You pretty much win.

Lineup and ticket links as per the social medias:

monolith on the mesa poster

Monolith on the Mesa: A High Desert Rock & Art Experience

Join Us On May 16th, 17th, & 18th In Taos New Mexico At Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership For Monolith on the Mesa A High Desert Rock Experience Like Non Other! A Music Festival with Art Visuals & Installations from Local NM Artists. And Of Course Some Of The Worlds Finest Dark, Psych, Stoner, Doom & Heavy Rock from All Over the Globe and SW Region! Browse Our Website monolithonthemesa.com For VIP And check out our Vintage Trailer Packages!!

http://www.monolithonthemesa.com/vintage-trailer-experience/

Hold My Ticket Link:
Pre party Show* https://holdmyticket.com/event/329481
2 Day Pass Ticket * https://holdmyticket.com/event/329524
Day 1 Pass Ticket * https://holdmyticket.com/event/329477
Day 2 Pass Ticket * https://holdmyticket.com/event/329482

MotherShip Outside Stage: Featuring Visuals By Mad Alchemist Liquid Light Show * Day 1: OM * Dead Meadow * Wovenhand * True Widow * EYE * Green Druid * Spirit Mother** Day 2: The Obsessed * Pinkish Black * Castle * The Well * Crypt Trip * WEEED * Cloud Catcher * The Munsens

Taos Mesa Worshipper Inside Stage: Day 1: * Tia Carrera * Wino (Acoustic) * Lord Buffalo * Pharlee * SuperGiant * YOU * Via Vengence * Deep Cross** Day 2 Duel * Stone Deaf * In The Company Of Serpents * Pale Horse\Pale Rider * Communion * Oryx * Sorex * Dysphotic * Devil’s Throne

https://www.facebook.com/events/260645364631316/
https://www.facebook.com/monolithonthemesa
https://www.instagram.com/monolithonthemesa/
http://www.monolithonthemesa.com/

Dead Meadow, “Good Moanin'” live at Endless Daze Fest 2018

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 08

Posted in Radio on January 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gimme radio logo

This was my 2019 preview… of sorts. By which I mean that it in no way encompassed everything coming out this year and that some of it was basically me being like, “golly, it sure would be nice if BAND X put out a record in the next 12 months.” Still fun, but I think definitely well earning that “of sorts” tag.

I keep notes with a running list of things like albums coming out and best records of the year, artwork, EPs, etc., and in my notes for what’s coming out in 2019 I have over 50 bands listed so far. Here they are, cut and paste-style:

Cities of Mars, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, No Man’s Valley, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan, Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Samsara Blues Experiment, Papir, Conan, Green Lung, BUS, Worshipper, Volcano, Mos Generator, Earth, Nebula Drag, Elder, Daxma, Besvärjelsen, Bellrope, The Sabbathian,

Some of that has been officially announced, some hasn’t, and some is rampant speculation, but many of these, and there’s always the contingency that expected releases can be delayed owing to recording and tour schedules, pressing concerns, pianos falling on heads, and so on, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find a bunch of those records on my year-end list in December. Whoopee.

What’s more important to stress, however, is that this is by no means the be-all-end-all list of things coming out. It’s a long year, and it’s January right now. There will be offerings in September and October that no one knows now are even in the works, and still more that aren’t. That’s why the list ends with a comma and a space instead of a period. There’s more to be added.

That said, this is a damn good show and I stand by it. Some of the inclusions could/would/will be among the year’s best albums — the new Worshipper is fantastic, and the new Kings Destroy owns my soul — but I wanted to put some stuff in here that the Gimme audience, which I tend to think of as being more metal though I have absolutely nothing to base that on, isn’t familiar with. Curse the Son, Snail, Sun Blood Stories.

It’s fun to talk about new albums coming out — I had a particular blast mentioning how annoyed I am at the universe for there being a new Sun Blood Stories album and I haven’t heard it yet — and even if some of it is speculative, that’s a good time too.

If you missed the show last night, it’s on tomorrow at 9AM at: http://gimmeradio.com.

The Obelisk Show Ep. 08 – 01.20.19

 

Lowrider Lameneshma Ode to Io (Deluxe Edition) 0:04:57
Kings Destroy Smokey Robinson Kings Destroy 0:04:03
BREAK
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard The Master and His Emissary Totems (Split w/Slomatics) 0:12:02
Snail Born in Captivity Feral 0:05:00
Motorpsycho The Tower The Tower 0:08:41
Mars Red Sky Friendly Fire Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) 0:04:51
BREAK
Sun Blood Stories Step Softly Ghost It Runs Around the Room with Us 0:04:48
Elephant Tree Dawn Elephant Tree 0:04:12
Curse the Son Aislamiento Isolator 0:07:13
Alunah Awn Amber & Gold* 0:05:50
Worshipper Night Child (The Oath cover) Mirage Daze 0:04:19
Hexvessel Old Tree All Tree* 0:03:40
Vokonis Rapturous The Sunken Djinn 0:06:09
Mr. Peter Hayden We Fly High Eternal Hayden 0:07:13
BREAK
Kind Rabbit Astronaut Rocket Science 0:03:49
Om Haqq al-Yaqin Advaitic Songs 0:11:29
Samsara Blues Experiment One with the Universe One with the Universe 0:15:07

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Tuesday at 9AM. Next show is Feb. 3. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Friday Full-Length: Om, Variations on a Theme

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 11th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Om, Variations on a Theme (2005)

Sometimes it feels like Om‘s 2005 debut, Variations on a Theme, gets forgotten about to some extent. At very least overshadowed by what the band has gone on to do with subsequent offerings. But I remember when Variations on a Theme came out. I still have the promo CD that came to what was then my office — because in 2005, things like “offices” and “promo CDs from labels” both existed — and I remember putting it on and being blown away by how unique the sound was. And 14 years later, it remains so. Om were by no means the first act to convey a sense of heavy without massive guitar riffs belting you in the face, but the patterning of Al Cisneros‘ vocals and the sheer barrage of his opaque lyrics, the depth of his bass tone and the unmitigated swing and inimitable movement in the drums of Chris Hakius came together in a way that forced one to recognize that, yes, this was something new. And for as mellow as the overarching spirit of Variations on a Theme was and is, it was new. And it was heavy.

On the most basic level, a duo was rarer. The most immediate association was a pop group like The White Stripes, who had taken the overblown sound of stadium rock and stripped it to its essential hooks and core attitude. Were Om doing the same thing to the idea of heavy music? Maybe, to a point. But their project on the three-song/45-minute Holy Mountain-released long-player was different — more exploratory. More spiritual, and less about plunging to the center of a thing than emerging outward from it. Cisneros and Hakius were both refugees from the then-defunct Sleep, who’d broken up years before but whose grand opus, Dopesmoker (discussed here), had finally seen release in 2003 through Tee Pee Records. It would be a few years still before the social media generation that brought Sleep to their stoner-lordly stature really came to prominence, but even then, the name of course resonated.

And Variations on a Theme felt like an outgrowth of some of what Sleep had done in that final, single-song LP. “On the Mountain at Dawn” (21:19), “Kapila’s Theme” (11:59) and “Annapurna” (11:53) indeed were longform pieces — not an hour long, but long — and their lyrics cast an impression born from philosophy texts and mythological traditions, patterned to coincide with tantric, mesmerizing basslines for a meditative feel worthy of the band’s name. It’s been 14 years and I still have no idea what’s going on in the repeated verse of “Annapurna”:

The flight to freedom gradient raise the called ascendant
And reach supreme the coalesced eye into surrender
Centripetal core of soul sojourn the field vibrates to absolution
I climb toward the sun to breathe the universal

om variations on a themeBut that last line is key. It’s the only lyric on Variations on a Theme that’s in first-person. All of “On the Mountain at Dawn” is in implied-third. There are no pronouns used, but the verb forms are “he does” or “she does.” “Kapila’s Theme” could be first or second or third, it’s never clear, but the line “I climb toward the sun to breathe the universal,” with later becomes “I climb toward the sun to breathe the indrawn universal,” conveys both the sense of pilgrimage — which would become an ongoing theme for the band — and the ritual smoke that seemed to be rising from the album itself as it played. As vague as its lyrics may have been, they were like an unearthed text, full of references and turns of phrase that would take years to be understood if they ever were.

Dopesmoker had that sense of journey, but there was a clearer narrative taking place as well. Variations on a Theme found Cisneros like an out-of-body prophet spewing lines that would either predict the flow of the universe or be lost to some other interpretation. But the transitional moment could be heard in more than just the lyrics or the cleaner vocal style. It’s in the tone. Working with producer Billy Anderson — who’d also helmed Sleep‘s studio material — Om centered around its tone in a way that a band with a guitar never could. After a short blip of feedback, “On the Mountain at Dawn” unfurled a sound that managed to be both full in its distortion and still somehow minimalist, understated. The bass tone was low, and dirty, but gorgeous, and it was fluid enough to shift from lumbering to rolling alongside Hakius‘ ping-ride groove at a moment’s notice, the kick drum adding an underlying sense of activity that gave the whole thing its forward motion.

It wouldn’t be the last time Om used a distorted tone, but as they moved forward from their debut with Conference of the Birds (discussed here) in 2006, they introduced a cleaner sound and would only continue to branch out from there. Following splits with Current 93 and Six Organs of Admittance, in 2007 they released Pilgrimage, which would be their final album with Hakius on drums. Replacing half a duo is no minor change, but Cisneros brought in Emil Amos — also of GrailsHoly Sons and a number of other projects — and on 2009’s God is Good (review here) introduced not only Amos, but a broader feel that included multi-instrumentalist Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, also of Lichens. By the time they got around to 2012’s Advaitic Songs (review here), Om were a trio, the arrangements had never been so grand, and the resulting work remains one of the best albums of this decade. Seven years after the fact, one anxiously awaits a follow-up.

Of course, Cisneros has been plenty busy with the Sleep reunion and, last year, their own long-awaited studio album, The Sciences (review here), but just as that record showed up with a day’s advance notice, suddenly dropped on an unsuspecting public after years of rumors and “yeah it’s happening”-kinds of updates, it’s hard not to hope 2019 produces something similar from CisnerosAmos and Lowe with Om. Last I heard, songs were being done in somewhat piecemeal fashion, but either way, if Advaitic Songs demonstrated anything plainly, it’s that Om had much more to offer, so if it takes them a while to manifest that, there’s little doubt it will be worth that wait.

And however far they might continue to move beyond what now seems like their rudimentary beginnings on Variations on a Theme, they’re still to some degree living out the title of their debut, exploring the outer reaches of the journey that those three songs set in motion.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

I keep hearing phantom baby shouts from upstairs. He’s not really up yet — he will be soon; it’s quarter-to-six –but my brain is so trained at this point that I hear him when he’s not really yelling. It’s a bird outside, or it’s the house settling in some way. It’s the wind. It’s something. Whatever it is, it’s not the baby yet. But again, we’ll get there momentarily.

Accordingly, I should probably keep this short. We’re still in New Jersey — The Patient Mrs., The Pecan and I — and that feels like something of a godsend. I do not look forward to going back north to Massachusetts, which will happen I think after next weekend, but whatever. Gotta go. The Patient Mrs. gotta make that money so I can continue to spend it on custom coffee blends, peanut butter and Sandra Boynton board books.

I’m going to write another children’s book by the way. About the purple octopus that has kind of become this site’s mascot. I named her Petunia. I’m thinking Petunia The Octopus Joins the Band. If you want to illustrate it, let me know, because I’m useless at that stuff. Could be a fun project.

Next week is pretty packed though. I guess the music industry went back to work this week, which is fair enough, because the PR wire started up again and my calendar got pretty full. Here are the notes, subject to change blah blah:

MON 01/14 King Witch video premiere; Glory in the Shadows video premiere.
TUE 01/15 BUS track premiere; Lumbar video.
WED 01/16 Nebula Drag video; another possible premiere.
THU 01/17 Ian Blurton’s Future Now track premiere.
FRI 01/18 Hibrido LP stream; Yawning Man live review.

On the side of that, I also have two bios to write and I just signed on for a bunch of announcements for Desertfest London, because later this month they’re going to bring a bunch more kickass bands on board. Today I also need to finish putting together the playlist for the next episode of ‘The Obelisk Show’ on Gimme Radio, which will be my 2019 preview. There’s a lot of good stuff in the coming months. It was pretty easy to pick bands. Just need songs now.

And sure enough, the baby’s up.

That’s my cue.

Please have a great and safe weekend, and please don’t forget to check out the Forum, the Radio stream and Obelisk shirts and whatnot at Dropout merch. Thanks for reading.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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