Hippie Death Cult Premiere “Treehugger” Video; 111 Repress Preorders Available Today

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

hippie death cult

The riff that opens Hippie Death Cult‘s 111 (review here) sounds so much like Alice in Chains‘ “Junkhead” to my ears that I keep half-expecting Layne Staley to start in with the “yeah-yeah”s over the lumbering guitar of Eddie Brnabic. He doesn’t, of course, but the key word there is “keep” — as in, I keep listening. To that song, to the album in general, and to the rampant praise that’s flooded over 111 before and since its release on vinyl through Cursed Tongue Records.

Usually that kind of thing is an immediate turnoff for me, and indeed, all the “holy shit!” around the work of Brnabic (who also recorded, mixed and mastered the album initially; Tony Reed did vinyl mastering, as he will), vocalist/keyboardist Ben Jackson (also of the undervalued Sioux), bassist Laura Phillips and drummer Ryan Moore (who was also in Nether Regions) had me hesitant to really dig into the record. And I’m not saying my opinion means anything one way or the other, because it doesn’t, but the fact is there is a draw to 111 that not only holds attention in the immediate, but keeps the listener coming back, in part to figure out what that draw is.

Near as I can estimate, it’s the balance of Brnabic‘s tone, which is very much Hippie-Death-Cult-111at the forefront of the band’s sound and sets their range in terms of depth of mix, driving both their heaviest moments and the acoustic centerpiece interlude “Mrtyu,” etc., and Jackson‘s soulful, at times gruff, vocals. The singer brings a bluesy sensibility that, in a song like the penultimate “Treehugger,” for which you can see a video premiering below — if you didn’t already see it premiering on YouTube at midnight Pacific last night; always love getting the exclusive, thanks y’all — almost touches on country, as though Hippie Death Cult were filtering a Texas heavy rock mindset through Portland’s attention to detail when it comes to tones and riffy tradition. With subtle lyrics touching on issues of faith and politics in opener “Sanctimonious” and elsewhere, there’s all the more depth to explore for the audience.

You’ll note the rhythm section has gone yet-unmentioned. That’s because their work is an utter given. Phillips, who also did some of the camera work in the video, alongside Brnabic and Alice Kollinzas, and Moore nail down and fill out the grooves of 111 with an understated fluidity that is never overly showy but is also never anything less than it needs to be. The balance, in other words, is just right, and in the respective eight- and nine-minute side A and B finales, “Unborn” and “Black Snake,” the full band works to enhance each other’s contributions so that it’s not just about the guitar or the vocals or the bass, drums or keys. It’s all of it, together. Considering 111 is a first album as the title would seem to indicate, this accomplishment isn’t to be understated.

Preorders are up as of today for the Cursed Tongue repress of 111, and you’ll find that info under the video for “Treehugger” below, courtesy of the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Hippie Death Cult, “Treehugger” official video premiere

CURSED TONGUE RECORDS IS DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE: PRE-ORDER AND OFFICIAL RELEASE DATE FOR THE REPRESS OF GRUNGY STONER DOOM ALBUM ‘111’ BY HIPPIE DEATH CULT

REPRESS RELEASE FEBRUARY 14TH 2020

PRE-ORDER STARTS JANUARY 17TH 6PM CET* ON:
http://cursedtonguerecords.bigcartel.com/

Stream/Buy: https://hippiedeathcult.bandcamp.com

hippie death cult 111 vinylDue to continued high demand for the vinyl release of HIPPIE DEATH CULT’s debut album ‘111’ that has sold out completely from the label and all distros, we are thrilled to announce the REPRESS of this belter of an album!

HIPPIE DEATH CULT have been hitting it hard since laset summer both live on the stage and in the online spheres, where they have amazed many heavy heads across the globe as well as received an impressive amount of high ranking scores on a wide array of Best Of 2019 charts. Now a new year has begun and more new endavours lie at the feet of the death cult hippies in 2020.

The REPRESS of “111” on dark ‘Treehugger Green’ vinyl will see the light of day on February 14 2020 via Cursed Tongue Records with pre-orders starting later today!

This premium vinyl release boasts high quality 180 grams vinyl plated and pressed in Germany, housed in 6mm spine full colour gatefold cover with smoking hot artwork by the singer Ben Jackson in collaboration with guitarist Eddie Brnabic. This CTR Exclusive REPRESS is ltd. to just 300 copies and comes with a super rad A3 sized poster by Shane Horror Design (ltd. 100 copies) and digital download coupon for the full album plus two kickass stickers.

So if you missed out on the 1st pressing or simply want to add this sick REPRESS edition to your vinyl collection, now is time to start your engines!

Video produced, Shot & Edited By : Eddie Brnabic
Additional footage shot by Laura Phillips & Alice Kollinzas

Hippie Death Cult live:
Feb 07 Hawthorne Theatre Portland, OR
Mar 19 McFiler’s Chehalis, WA
Mar 20 Substation Seattle, WA
Mar 21 High Water Mark Lounge Portland, OR
Mar 22 Sessions Music Hall Eugene, OR
Apr 15 The Big Dipper Spokane, WA
Apr 16 Badlander Missoula, MT
Apr 17 Royal Canadian Legion Branch 1 Calgary, AB
Apr 17 Rocky Mountain Riff Fest Kalispell, MT

Hippie Death Cult are:
Eddie Brnabic : Guitar
Laura Phillips : Bass
Ryan Moore : Drums
Ben Jackson : Vocals/Keys

Hippie Death Cult, 111 (2019)

Hippie Death Cult on Bandcamp

Hippie Death Cult on Instagram

Hippie Death Cult on Thee Facebooks

Hippie Death Cult website

Cursed Tongue Records webstore

Cursed Tongue Records on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records on Instagram

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Blackwater Holylight Announce West Coast Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 30th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

blackwater holylight

If I needed to tell you to listen to Blackwater Holylight before — and nope, I didn’t — I definitely don’t now, as you no doubt made your way out to see them on their Fall tour alongside Monolord. Or, perhaps you were fortunate enough to catch one of their nights with YOB and Earthless earlier this month. One way or the other, you probably picked up however many vinyl editions of their second album, Veils of Winter (review here), were at the merch table, and I’m sure by now you’ll agree it’s one of 2019’s best records. I think it’s nice to be so on the same page. Synergy and so forth.

Turns out Blackwater Holylight aren’t at all done supporting said record, and really, neither should they be, what with all the ass its eight tracks streaming at the bottom of this post so mightily kick. They were in Europe last Spring, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a return trip sometime in 2020, depending on how quickly they want to get to work on their third album — their second came on a quick turnaround from their 2018 self-titled debut (review here) — but before that either does or doesn’t happen, they’ll do a West Coast headlining run that, if I’m not mistaken, will be their first time at the top of the bill in the US. If I’m right about that, it’s a significant forward step, even though the tour set for March is nowhere near as long as the stint with Monolord, and one hopes that it will only add to the momentum already so much on the band’s side.

Shows are presented by Nanotear, who posted the dates thusly:

blackwater holylight west coast tour

Blackwater Holylight – West Coast Tour Dates

Happy new year: Blackwater Holylight will be doing a West Coast tour this upcoming March.

03/04 Seattle WA Substation
03/05 Vancouver BC Astoria
03/06 Portland OR Mississippi Studios
03/07 Eugene OR Old Nick’s
03/08 Sacramento CA Starlet
03/10 San Diego CA Soda Bar
03/11 Los Angeles CA Lodge Room
03/12 Palm Springs CA Ace Hotel
03/13 Santa Cruz CA Felton Music Hall
03/14 Oakland CA Eli’s Mile High

Presented by Nanotear: https://www.facebook.com/Nanotear/

https://www.facebook.com/blackwaterholylight/
instagram.com/blackwaterholylight
blackwaterholylight.bandcamp.com
ridingeasyrecs.com

Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter (2019)

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Song of the Decade: YOB, “Marrow”

Posted in Features on December 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

yob (Photo by James Rexroad)

To be perfectly honest, I don’t feel the need to plead much of a case here. The 18-minute closer from Oregon trio YOB‘s 2014 opus, Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), is its own best argument for being the best song that came out in the 2010s. And though it was obviously a while back, I also named it the song of the year when it came out. So who wants to be redundant? Here’s some of what I said about it at the time:

“Marrow” is led into by “Unmask the Spectre,” a 15-minute exploration that hits its apex late. There is, however, about 40-seconds of ambient guitar and spacious effects swirling after the chaos has subsided, and the fadeout of that gives flowing movement into the silence from which the opening guitar line of “Marrow” emerges. It’s less than a minute before bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster join in, which leaves guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt to set the initial atmosphere for what will become YOB‘s boldest and most melodic construction to date. Already by then, Clearing the Path to Ascend has taken listeners up, down and through an emotional torrent, songs like the raging “Nothing to Win” and the perpetually-searching “In Our Blood” establishing the dynamic course beyond YOB‘s beginnings — which, make no mistake, are essential to the makeup of what we think of today as cosmic doom — and further into something wholly their own; a sound as distinct and identifiable as Sleep‘s is to Sleep, as Neurosis‘ is to Neurosis. — read more here.

It’s been five years, and YOB have put out 2018’s Our Raw Heart (review here) in the meantime, moving from Neurot Recordings to Relapse Records in the process. So does the above still apply? Yes, and maybe even more than it did then.

The subsequent half-decade since it came out has done nothing to dull the impact of “Marrow,” from its wistful opening and closing guitar figure to the grand sweep of its melodic chorus, to the sheer grace of its crescendo, which arrives not as some overstated wash of noise or volume for volume’s sake, but a moment driven by emotion even more than tone. And the lyrics there, purposeful in their simplicity, say it gorgeous and plain like the truest of American art forms:

“Restless souls
Flickering light
Painted in gold
Tearing at the seams
Needing to feel
One true moment
Needing to feel
Something true”

That’s you, at a show. You’re one of the restless souls in the gold flickering light needing to feel one true moment. When Mike Scheidt sings those lines and the ones before them, he’s talking about the communication between artist and audience, the experience of performance that is unique to stage arts — theatre and music. Painters (usually) don’t paint on stage. Writers (usually) don’t write on stage. But that “one true moment.” That “something true” is the genuine expression that performance represents to Scheidt, and presumably YOB as a whole.

But the key word there is “needing,” and what the lyrics to “Marrow” leave largely unsaid is the need on the part of the band itself. It is represented as a kind of searching felt beneath the surface, and after a stream of consciousness first verse, the song unfolds into the self-aware pre-chorus thusly:

“All these words
Are dust within my mind
In these times
That burn within our sight
Yearning to know
Deep into the marrow”

Of course, YOB are not the first band to write about the experience of creative life, but if one takes the song at its own level, the difference is the level on which they’re engaging it. It’s not skin, muscle or bone. It’s marrow. It is the deepest level. The essential charge in the electron in the nucleus of an atom. YOB earned the title of the following LP by showing their raw heart first on “Marrow,” and in its performance, from Scheidt, Aaron Rieseberg and Travis Foster, it is something unmatched in their catalog, which spans nearly 20 years of output. But while “Marrow” remains superlative, it didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Consider the context of the grand YOB closers that have been a running theme throughout their career. I recounted the list at the time as well, but to reiterate, I’m thinking of the title-tracks of 2003’s Catharsis and 2004’s The Illusion of Motion (discussed here), “The Mental Tyrant” from 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived (discussed here), the title-track from 2009’s The Great Cessation (review here), and “Adrift in the Ocean” from 2011’s Atma (review here).

Our Raw Heart stepped away from the modus somewhat in that its eponymous finale wasn’t the longest song on the record — that would be “Beauty in Falling Leaves,” two tracks earlier — but both of those seemed to build on what was done on Clearing the Path to Ascend. The point though is that “Marrow” didn’t just arrive out of nowhere. It came as the culmination of years of exploring texture and bringing together emotionality and sonic heft, the idea that something heavy could be a ritual of spirit as much as volume.

It was a new level of achievement for YOB, and it and the album that surrounded cemented their place among the most integral American bands of their generation, but more than that, it validated the connection between their audience and their music. It made it real. Among “Marrow”‘s accomplishments in pushing the band’s sound to places it had hinted at before, it was an open, real, honest look at what it means to be on either side of the subject/object divide, and maybe it even broke down that barrier a little bit, at least when it comes to a fan’s connections to YOB‘s own work.

It was that true moment, preserved.

Honorable Mention

There are, of course, many arguments to be made for many other songs. A few off the top of my head:

  • Stoned Jesus, “I’m the Mountain”
  • Elder, “Lore”
  • Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “I’ll Cut You Down”
  • Sleep, “Giza Butler”
  • Om, “Gethsemane”
  • Neurosis, “At the Well”
  • Colour Haze, “Grace”
  • Clutch, “D.C. Sound Attack”
  • Graveyard, “The Siren”

That’s nine, so I guess if you want to package this in some order as a top 10, you could. I’m content to leave it as is, since it’s all relative anyway. But consider the impact of that Stoned Jesus track or Elder‘s “Lore” in igniting and inspiring new bands. Same with Uncle Acid. Like “Marrow” above, these are the songs that continue to resonate and have an effect not just on the listeners, but the artists themselves and other bands in the underground ecosystem. I don’t think that just because the decade is ending that will stop, either. These works, which have already lasted a span of years, will continue to shape the experiences of others, and art will continue to grow outward from other art. There are few things so beautiful in the universe.

If you have a pick you’d like to add to any of the above, please feel free to do so in the comments. The more the merrier, and thanks for reading.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk best of 2019

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

Make no mistake, my friends. 2019 was the year it went off the rails.

Every 12-month period brings a lot of records, and they all seem overwhelming, but this was the first year I’ve ever felt quite so helpless when it came time to sit down and actually make my list. Of course, I keep running notes all year long, but even so, ordering everything, bringing it all together? What a mess.

I almost thought of breaking it down into smaller lists in addition to the big one, subgrouped by style. But then, where does doom end and sludge begin? What about psych and heavy rock? Should prog get its own list? And what the hell counts as prog?

In the end, that didn’t seem like it would be doing me any favors, so we’ll stick with the one big list and then others for debut releases and another for EPs, splits, demos and so on. You know, the usual.

Pretty sure I say this every year too, but it bears repeating: if you read any of the below — and thanks if you do — and have a response, be nice. If I’ve forgotten something — and yes, I have; I’m sure of it — that you think needs to be included, and you want to leave a comment that says so, please, by all means. But keep it civil. I know people are passionate about this stuff and so am I, but consider there are probably over 200 offerings covered here by the time you get through all the lists and honorable mentions, and I’m one person. I’m doing my best, and though I try not to, I tend to take being called a dumbass personally. So yeah, chill out and please be constructive in calling me a dumbass. Words matter.

A few hard choices here, most especially for album of the year. I was back and forth with each of the top three in the top spot for a good long while, and it might change again between now and when this post goes up. But it’s been that kind of year. In 2018, there was no question. It was Sleep all the way. The question was what came after that. This year has been different without that kind of duh, punch-in-the-face obvious pick. Relative parity isn’t a bad thing though.

Enough delay. The usual parameters apply. These are a combo of my personal listening habits and what I think are the most important records/achievements of the year, critical importance, etc.

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

50. Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned
49. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
48. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Grandmother
47. PH, Osiris Hayden
46. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
45. Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light
44. Uffe Lorenzen, Triprapport
43. Swallow the Sun, When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
42. Caustic Casanova, God How I Envy the Deaf
41. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre
40. SÂVER, They Came With Sunlight
39. Ogre, Thrice as Strong
38. Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension
37. Vokonis, Grasping Time
36. Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour
35. Across Tundras, The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds
34. Duel, Valley of Shadows
33. Orodruin, Ruins of Eternity
32. Zaum, Divination
31. Inter Arma, Sulphur English

Notes: Honestly, if this had been the top 20 of the year, I’d still call 2019 a win. Aside from the fact that I somehow thought Caustic Casanova would enjoy coming in a number 42, the sheer quality of this stuff should tell you what kind of year 2019 was. Inter Arma’s Sulphur English was a significant achievement in genre melding, and Orodruin’s return after more than a decade since their last LP was a masterclass in doom worship. Debut albums from SÂVER and Thunderbird Divine and Lightning Born showed marked promise of things to come — and there’s more on them below as well — while Zaum’s, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree’s and Lamp of the Universe’s meditations, Vokonis’ noise, Abrahma’s emotive progressivisim, Swallow the Sun’s melodic melancholy, Sacri Monti’s boogie, and whatever the hell PH were doing on Osiris Hayden remind just how much the word “heavy” can encompass. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Duel and Uffe Lorenzen and Hazemaze were musts here, and Ogre are perennial favorites whose work always brings a doomly grin. Don’t sleep on any of it.

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

Until they put out a complementary follow-up record of such fare, one might’ve accused Idaho three-piece Sun Blood Stories of becoming less experimentalist/droned-out/noisy on Haunt Yourself, but they seem to have met their quota one way or the other with the Oct. 2019 advent of Static Sessions Vol. 1. Still, it’s melody, heavy post-rock/psychedelic drift and emotive soul that rule the day on the crushing and enriching Haunt Yourself, and no complaints from me on that.

29. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Everybody’s Going to Die

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

I don’t have to do anything more than read the name of the album to have the chorus of the title-track stuck in my head, and it’s a reminder that although the Nottingham troupe put so much into their progressive style and vocal harmonies and arrangements, and a more conceptual theme in the case of Everybody’s Going to Die — their answer to 2018’s excellent Science Fiction (review here) — their roots are in songcraft, and it’s the foundation of songcraft that lets them soar. Would be higher on the list if it weren’t so new.

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

With their sixth album, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay collect 10 tracks of unpretentious-almost-to-a-fault of straightforward heavy rock songwriting that continues to be woefully underappreciated. They have become utterly reliable in that regard — you know, to a certain extent, what’s coming — but the vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (also Apostle of Solitude) and some more metallic turns to the riffing give Forever, Never or Whenever a subtlety that holds up all the more on repeat visits. I don’t know if Devil to Pay will ever get their due, but suffice it to say, they’re due.

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the first Playstation came out and everyone looked around at their Nintendos and Segas like, “What the hell am I messing around with Mario Golf for? I could be playing Resident Evil!” That’s kind of what Howling Giant are as compared to “regular” rock bands. They’re the Playstation of heavy: that next progressive step forward carrying an inhuman amount of swagger and personality while still delivering a stepped-up product from their would-be peers. The scariest thing about The Space Between Worlds is it’s their first LP. One looks forward to the next generation.

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

I know for a fact that bassist Pat Bruders and drummer Henry Vasquez had a hand in writing some of the material on Saint Vitus’ second self-titled LP, and yet the album so much bears the indelible mark of guitarist Dave Chandler that it’s hard not to think of it all as his. The album marked their first release with original singer Scott Reagers since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here) and featured among their trademark low-tuned slog, an actual punk song, which showed the grinning glee that underlies all they do. Four decades on, Saint Vitus sound like they’re having fun. How is that not a win?

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

Woodsy Rocky Mountain psychedelia abounded on Boise foursome Ealdor Bealu’s second full-length, and their blend of landscape meditations and grounded heavy progressive melodicism made Spirit of the Lonely Places as much about impact as about space, though of course the real joy was the experience of the entirety. Very much a sophomore album, it learned lessons from 2017’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain (review here) that one only hopes the band will continue to push forward in scope as they so gracefully did here.

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

Released through Grimoire Records. Discussed Nov. 13, 2018..

Though hard- and to-date quick-working Maryland trio Yatra have already moved on and are looking ahead to releasing their second album, Blood of the Night (review here), their Grimoire-delivered debut, Death Ritual, is impossible to ignore for the impact it had on reminding listeners of the impact that primeval extreme sludge can have. Another couple tours and some bigger label — Relapse, Prosthetic, eOne, Season of Mist, whoever — will decide they’re “ready,” whatever that means, and then sign them and I won’t be cool enough to do track premieres for them anymore, but as far as accolades go, Yatra earn whatever they get and Death Ritual stands among 2019’s most landmark debuts. They’ve already outdone it, but it’s a stunner just the same.

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

Ecstatic Vision frontman Doug Sabolik has cast himself in the mold of Arthur Brown or Dave Wyndorf or probably seven or eight dudes who were in Hawkwind at some point as a manic-but-stoned space rock preacher with as he and his band behind him plunge headfirst-or-feetfirst-it-doesn’t-matter-because-your-body-is-an-illusion-man into the molten multicolor void. For the Masses. The ‘masses,’ such as they are, should be so lucky, but the double-meaning is the real tell for where the Philly unit are coming from. Their shows are the masses — gatherings of spirit and song to give praise to the willful expansion of mind. If you can’t get behind that, you might as well go get a job or something. This ain’t no lightweight party for squares and dabblers. This is a high-potency happening for werewolves on motorcycles and freaks of all stripes. Get weird stay weird. Ecstatic Vision are one mostly-mellow 15-minute “Spine of God”-style psych-epic away from perfection.

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

But for the circumstances that brought it about — i.e. Beastwars vocalist Matt Hyde’s cancer — the unexpected fourth installment in the Beastwars trilogy was nothing if not welcome. An grand-feeling sense of largesse was nothing new to the New Zealand four-piece, but after breaking up and getting back together to make the album, the grim sincerity with which they presented this exploration of mortality and betrayal by one’s own body was no less palpable than the undulating riffs that threatened, as ever, to consume all in their path. I don’t know their future plans in terms of continuing to write and/or record, but there are reports of touring beyond Aus/NZ for 2020, so one way or another, stay tuned for more from them. Whether or not they do anything else, IV was a triumph in spirit and execution.

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

With the nine songs of Slow Burn Suicide, Brooklyn’s Eternal Black began to unveil the true depth of their project. Their 2017 debut, Bleed the Days (review here), was well received, and rightly so, but operated more in a straight-ahead doom sphere. The second outing, by contrast, delved into a particular vision of the style informed by the crunch of peak-era New York noise and crossover hardcore, and it succeeded not just because it did this, but because it did so around a conjuration of memorable riffs and tracks building on accomplishments carried over from its predecessor. Is this an awaited arrival of next-generation ‘New York doom’? Will theirs be a blueprint others will follow? It’s impossible to know now, and their next album will be telling either way, but the course they’ve set is significant.

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

It may have been the Tony Iommi guest appearance that got Swedish doom legends Candlemass — the world’s earliest and foremost purveyors of doom both classic and epic — their recent Grammy nomination, but it was the long-overdue reunion with original vocalist Johan Längquist that made the album as a whole as powerful as it was. Pairing Längquist’s theatrical and vital approach with founding bassist Leif Edling’s second-to-none doomcraft, The Door to Doom was a catapult not to the bygone days of the band’s landmark debut, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but an inspired look at not just what might’ve been had Längquist remained with the band longer, but what might still be if he does this time around. Candlemass have been through their share of singers, but as fresh as The Door to Doom sounded, it’s hard not to hope for something more than a one-off with he who got there first. The songs, the spirit, the sheer heart poured into Candlemass’ doom some 35 years past the band’s start only emphasizes how special they have always been.

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

Anyone who might’ve predicted Nebula getting into the studio and making a new album was either in the room when it happened or talking out their ass. And speaking of, was Nebula’s Holy Shit named for the shock one might’ve felt at its existence, or the surprise at how good it actually sounded when you put it on? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know. It was the best title I saw all year, but more than that, it was a Nebula record, fueled by the classic riffing and unmitigated desert punk soul of founding/guitarist Eddie Glass, whose absence from the heavy underground for the last decade left a void only too many others whiffed on filling. Holy Shit showed just how singular a player Glass was and is, and how much character there is in his style, particularly in solos, but also in rhythmic changes, and so on. I won’t discount the work of bassist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster in making Nebula what they are in this incarnation — they’re essential, obviously — but there’s simply no denying that presence at the band’s core.

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

This was a heavy rock record that had everything. Everything. It had songs, style, ups, down, purples, greens, ins, outs, all kinds of whathaveyou. Riffs forever. Valley of the Sun should keep their eyes on Sasquatch, because if they want it, that path is theirs. I know the Cincinnati outfit have had trouble keeping lineups together, but if they can hold onto one, and maybe after their next record start touring more, domestically and abroad — not at all a minor ask, I know — then people will catch on. Old Gods is evidence of the fact that they genuinely have something to offer, and frankly, it’s not at all the first such effective case they’ve made in their career. But they’ve never put anything out that wasn’t a step forward, and yet they’ve never lost sight of the roots of their initial inspiration. And they’ve never sacrificed the song for the riff, which so many do. They’ve only ever gotten better. Let Old Gods be a step toward them getting attention they’ve long since deserved.

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

In style and production, For the Dead Travel Fast is the most vintage-sounding offering Berlin trio Kadavar have made in over a half decade, yet neither is it looking backward wistfully toward 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) or giving up the modern clarity of 2017’s Rough Times (review here) or 2015’s Berlin (review here). Instead, it strikes a balance with a more sinister edge à la Uncle Acid in songs like “Children of the Night” and “Demons in My Mind” — both singles — and makes a home for itself between proto-metal and garage doom. Whatever genre tag you want to give it — and that might vary from track to track, mind you — it’s unmistakably Kadavar, with the signature hooks and memorable craftsmanship that have made them one of the decade’s most pivotal heavy bands. The real challenge at this point in their career is not to take for granted that Kadavar will produce material of such quality, because, frankly, that’s all they’ve ever done.

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

Welsh sci-fi cosmic doomers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard billed Yn Ol I Annwn as the final installment of a trilogy that includes their two prior LPs, 2015’s Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here) and 2016’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), and while that may be true thematically, there’s also no question the third is a marked step forward from anything they’ve done before. They’re one foot out of the airlock and into space as their synth-laden longform riffing and melodies take them to places they’ve not yet gone, explorations of sight as much as sound, aural translation of colors humans aren’t gifted to see. Their songs across the 65-minute span unfold with the grace of a gravity spiral, pulling the listener deeper into the proceedings with each new phase that emerges until, what, obliteration? Stellar genesis? I’m not sure. They’ve reportedly got one more record to make and then they’re done. If that’s true, they’ll be missed then they’re gone.

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

They’ve found their way to die, and it’s upon an altar of classic metal and doom. And honestly, they make a pretty good case for it. Departed Souls is the third full-length from the Boston unit and their most stylistically realized work yet, with vocalist Brendan Radigan giving a standout performance alongside the guitars of Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, the bass of Justin DeTore and Michael “Q” Quartulli’s drums, as the entire band taps into vibes from mid-’70s Black Sabbath and brings them to bear with an energy that is unlike anything in Magic Circle’s history. 2015’s Journey Blind (review here) brought in NWOBHM flash in the guitar work, sure enough, but Departed Souls doesn’t so much carry the torch of classic metal as it does use it to burn down the whole village and rebuild it in the five-piece’s image. From their doomed beginnings on their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) to now, they’re an act who’ve genuinely earned cult status. If you can find a backpatch, buy it.

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

Controversy! Drama! Well, probably not, but at very least some respectful disagreement on my part. You see, Poland’s Spaceslug have stated publicly that their latest release, the late-2019 surprise Reign of the Orion is an EP. Their albums regularly top 50 minutes, and at 36 minutes, I guess relative to that, you can see where they’re coming from. However, with the flow of these five songs and the ease with which they carry the listener from front-to-back through the listening experience, I’m sticking to my guns and calling Reign of the Orion an album. Sorry guys. True, it’s shorter than the other full-lengths, but it’s got everything you could ask an album to have in terms of how tracks like “Spacerunner” and the shouty “Half-Moon Burns” play into each other, and the fluidity of the outing on the whole is inarguable. An LP by any other name? Whatever you or they want to call it, there’s no question in my mind Reign of the Orion is one of 2019’s best records. If they insist on it being an EP, then it’s the best one of the year, but I still say it belongs in another category altogether, so here it is.

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

As hyper-crowded as London is with bands at this moment in history, there continue to be acts who sneak through with an individualized and intriguing perspective on doom and heavy rock, and Green Lung are a perfect example, learning from fellow Brits like Alunah and Elephant Tree and incorporating folk and forest goth vibes to their debut album, Woodland Rites. Laced with organ and stuck-in-the-head choruses like “Let the Devil In” and the creeper “Templar Dawn,” the record also pushed into drifting verses on “Into the Wild,” setting up future experimentation with atmospheric variety and genre manipulation. If part of any first album’s appeal is the potential it represents, Green Lung’s offers plenty, but wherever their subsequent course may or may not take them, their accomplishments here shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodland Rites is nothing less than the heavy rock debut album of the year, and though they emerge from a packed field, the work they do to stand themselves out already carries their mark and an apparent will toward progression. They’re on their way.

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

My head immediately goes to the hooks of “Ten Days” and “Ascension Day” and “Savage Heart,” but the up-down surges of guitar in “Old News/New Fire” and the midtempo soulfulness in “A Thousand Miles” are no less resonant when it comes to the actual listening experience of the fifth Lo-Pan LP. Subtle, when it came to living up to its name, as much wasn’t as it was. Flourishes of harmony in the vocals of Jeff Martin, the pops in Jesse Bartz’s snare punctuating and propelling in kind, turns in Scott Thompson’s bass work twisting around the guitar of Chris Thompson, a relative newcomer to the fold making his debut with the band and showing no apparent trouble fitting in. I don’t imagine Lo-Pan is an easy band to join, especially at this point. They thrive on personality clash and, through years of touring, have a chemistry they’ve built between them that comes through even on their recordings. Nonetheless, Subtle is their clearest, sharpest-edged work yet, and as tight as their songwriting has become, they still groove and groove mightily. They are a treasure of American heavy rock and roll. Believe it.

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

While members of Roadsaw have spent the intervening years in projects like Kind, White Dynomite, Sasquatch and Murcielago, the Boston heavy rock kingpins have indeed been missed, and Tinnitus the Night works quickly to show why. It’s been well over 20 years since their first LP — hell, it’s been eight since they put out their 2011 self-titled (review here) — but their craft is at its own level, and Tinnitus the Night comes barreling through with “Shake” and “Along for the Ride” and “Final Phase” before opening up to broader fare on side B with “Find What You Need,” “Under the Devil’s Thumb” and “Midazolam” ahead of the subdued finale “Silence,” and the result is nothing less than a classic heavy rock LP structure as befitting what is itself a classic heavy rock LP. What’s Roadsaw’s future? I don’t know. It took them the better part of a decade to make this one happen, so take from that what you will, but to me, all it says is there’s even more reason to be grateful they got it done and out. To say the songs deserve that is putting it mildly.

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

I’m not doing a ‘song of the year’ post, but if I was, Worshipper’s “Coming Through” might be it. The opening track from the Boston four-piece’s second album, Light in the Wire, marries classic pop drama in its melody with careening progressive riffing, and sets the tone for a record that is of both future and past, twistingly complex and yet immediately accessible, immersive as an entirety and still comprised of standout moments. These aren’t contradictions in Worshipper’s skillful hands, but the stuff of what’s already becoming their own take on rock. Tied together through melody, skillful rhythmic intricacy and solid structural foundations, “Light in the Wires,” “Visions from Beyond,” “Wither on the Vine” and others throughout post their own triumphs en route to enhancing the album as a whole, while “Nobody Else” and closer “Arise” underscore the emotive basis from which the perspective of the whole LP emanates. There are a lot of “next-gen” heavy rock bands out there weaving prog elements and traditional riffing together to some degree or other. Few, if any, can write a song like Worshipper can. I mean it. This band is something special.

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

What is there to say about Solace? A band who, nine years after revealing the expectation-slaughtering masterpiece A.D. (review here), return with three-fifths of a swapped-out lineup and simply do it again? This band is explosive. Really. Like, they might explode at any minute. It’s a miracle The Brink ever happened. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But Solace are a force like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in music. They take metallic aggression, hardcore’s sense of self-righteousness and heavy rock’s groove, set it all to a doomly swing and they play it in such a way as to leave you utterly dumbfounded by what you just experienced. Here’s a challenge though, for the band personally. From me to them. Do another one. Go ahead. Put out another album. You don’t even have to do it in 2020. Do it 2021. Write the songs and give me a no-holds-barred 45-minute LP of the tightest, meanest shit you’ve ever written. Because massive as the accomplishments are on The Brink, it’s the potential to build from them that resonates most here. So do it, guys. Step up and take advantage of the moment. Call me greedy if you want, I don’t care. Give me another Solace record. I dare you.

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

Released by Doom Stew Records & DHU Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

Simply a case of a band wildly outdoing themselves. Easy story, yeah? In some ways, maybe, but the truth of what Brume achieve on Rabbits. Their second long-player behind 2017’s Rooster (review here), the five-track offering sees the San Francisco three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis working with producer Billy Anderson to bring theatricality and emotionalism together in a flowing post-heavy context that’s neither derivative nor working at cross purposes. Instead, it is a gorgeous and blooming undertaking across its 43-minute span, working in its own light/dark spectrum and bringing not just the sense of trapped fragility evoked by the cover art, but a corresponding sureness of intent to its ascendant heavy surges. Like Rooster before it, it is loaded with potential, but in “Scurry” and “Lament” and “Despondence” and “Blue Jay and “Autocrat’s Fool,” there’s a patience and command that absolutely does not waver. So yes, a band outdoing themselves. But so much more too.

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

This may forever be known as the Mars Red Sky album they wrote in a cave, but the Bordeaux three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau nonetheless plunged forward along the progressive course they charted back on 2014’s sophomore outing, Stranded in Arcadia (review here), and continued to manifest in 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). Their blend of melody and tonal heft has become a hallmark of their work to this stage in their career, but The Task Eternal continues to add a sense of breadth to the proceedings, giving their sound a full three-dimensional pull that feels tailor-made for headphones and is consuming in its entirety. With experiments in structure like the pairing of “Recast” and “Reacts,” and the rushing sweep of melody in “Hollow King,” Mars Red Sky’s latest is, as ever, their finest. Outdoing themselves would seem to be the task from which the record derives its title. Fine. Just keep going. Please.

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

Every time I think I understand where Kings Destroy want to go as a band, they pull the rug out. That’s what Fantasma Nera is. After their 2015 self-titled (review here) third LP seemed to declare them once and for all in a space between doom and noise rooted in their respective hardcore pasts, the Brooklynite five-piece hooked up with producer David Bottrill (Tool, etc.) and composed a rock album. A real live rock album! With progressive undertones in the guitar work and the most accomplished melodicism of their career, Kings Destroy put everything they had into making Fantasma Nera and one need look no further than the title-track to hear the result of that monumental effort. It is the realization of a band challenging themselves to go so far out of their comfort zone as to be only recognizable in the most rudimentary of ways, and to say it as plainly as I can, “Dead Before” on its own is enough of an accomplishment — and enough of a full-length, at all of 4:25 — to make this list on its own, whatever surrounds it. Song of the year. I’ll say every time I’m a Kings Destroy fan, but I’ve never been gladder to say it than I am in talking about Fantasma Nera.

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Ah come on, Colour Haze are always on the list when they put out records,” I have two answers. One, you’re right, and two, if you have a problem with that, blow it out your ass. The Munich forefathers of the European heavy psychedelic underground — yup — marked their 25th anniversary this year, and did so not just by putting out an album, but by putting out We Are, which introduces a full-fledged fourth member to what’s been a three-piece since 1998. Granted, it’s not the first time guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald have worked with organist/keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender, but never has the presence of keys been so integral to their work, and never has the dynamic between players shifted in the way it does on tracks like “The Real” and “Life” and “I’m With You,” with keys fleshing out melodies and enriching the bass and guitar. Add to that the Spanish-style guitar on centerpiece “Material Drive” or the operatic flash in the penultimate “Be With Me,” and it’s one more example of one of the best bands on earth refusing to rest on their laurels. Which, as it happens, is why they’re one of the best bands on earth. So hell yes, they’re on all my lists. Fact is my lists are lucky to have them.

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

Like nothing else I heard in 2019, Veils of Winter had repeat listenability. It was the album that, most often, when I was choosing something I actually wanted to hear, I went back to time and again. Its dark, moody psychedelic and heavy vibe stands alone among the year’s releases, and is a stylistic milestone that one only hopes other artists will pick up on. Toying with pop melodies on tracks like “Death Realms” and bringing hypnosis and clarity in kind to the subtly traditionalist winding riff of “Moonlit” — would it have been out of place on the first Witchcraft LP? — the Portland, Oregon, five-piece worked on a speedy turnaround and squashed even the significant expectations I had after their self-titled debut (review here) last year. They’ve begun to tour, so I don’t know if another full-length is in the works for 2020, but their craft is enviable in its flow and their songs are shimmering in tone and cohesion alike. Given how bold a step forward Veils of Winter is, I hear nothing in their material to this point to make me think their momentum won’t continue to carry them forward. But, you know, if not, I’d also take about six or seven records just like this one. That’d be fine too. Whatever they want, really.

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Slomatics — guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey — finished a narrative trilogy with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), and though the storyline was always vague throughout that and the preceding two offerings, the question of how they would proceed nonetheless hung over Canyons prior to its release. The answer is in the songs themselves. From the sci-fi majesty of lumbering, rolling groove in opener and longest track “Gears of Despair” — oh, they grind — through the mega-stomp of “Telemachus, My Son” and the righteously synth-laden wash that consumes “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” Slomatics bring together concept and execution with a readiness that highlights the fact of their 15th anniversary. They are mature in their approach, yes, but the fact is their approach is so much their own and so given to their particular mode of progression that it almost can’t help but feel fresh. How could something so utterly crushing also feel rejuvenating? As they plod through finale “Organic Caverns II” ending with more waves of synth and tectonic guitar — no bass, remember — they are as restorative as they are punishing, and they stand astride that duality with neither mercy nor pretense. Canyons, whether it’s setting up a new story, building from the old, or doing something completely different, stands on its own.

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

My anticipation for and expectations of Year of the Cobra’s second long-player were high most especially after 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here), which along with the dead, set alight the notion that the Seattle duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith were simply a heavy/doom band. With elements of post-punk, psych wash, minimalist stretches and propulsive gallop, Ash and Dust cast itself out over an aesthetic range that set a new standard not just for Year of the Cobra, but for anyone who’d dare match them at their own game — and that list will grow with time, absolutely. As their first outing through Prophecy Productions, Ash and Dust threw itself into the very melting pot of its own ambition and emerged with songs that didn’t just bring together disparate ideas, but made them flourish and engage and challenge the listener while still proving consistent in tone and underlying groove. For a two-person, two-instrument outfit (not counting voice, though I should), they proved more malleable than many with more than twice the number of hands on deck, and pushed the notion of what heavy rock is and does forward without stopping to look back or ask for permission. They just did it, and maybe Ash and Dust is the aftermath of all that burning.

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Look back over the course of this list, and you will find no shortage of bands and releases that surpassed the group in question’s past work. With Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord, it wasn’t just about No Comfort — their debut on Relapse, fourth full-length overall — being better than 2017’s Rust (review here), because that was pretty jolly gosh darn enjoyable, but about the band reaching a moment of transcendence to which Rust and all their prior work across 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2014’s Empress Rising has been leading. With the six tracks of No Comfort, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems not only overcome the influences that launched them — taking full ownership of their sound and defending that claim with the sheer quality of their songwriting — and they not only become as identifiable as those influences themselves, but they overcome themselves. No Comfort means no comfort. Monolord take the simplicity that once fueled their riffing, the willful primitivism of their earliest work, and with songs like “Larvae” and “The Bastard Son” and the closing title-track use it as the foundation it was apparently always intended to be. Monolord have toured plenty and certainly their studio output has shown an increasing complexity from one LP to the next, so progression isn’t unexpected, but the manner in which Monolord have executed that progression has been. Even on “The Last Leaf,” which is arguably the most straightforward fare on the album, one hears it as them rather than the manifestation of the acts that inspired them. The same holds for “Skywards” later on, and for the immersion that takes hold as the mournful “Alone Together” plays into “No Comfort” itself. Monolord take their place among the best bands on the planet, and deliver an Album of the Year for 2019 that, like the absolute best, will have an impact lasting much longer than any period of 12 months might convey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

You didn’t think we’d stop at 50, did you? Come on. You know me better than that. The fact is that the list itself, humongous as it is, is just the start of the tip of an iceberg attached to a glacier that’s somewhere on an entire planet constructed of ice.

Honorable mentions, you say? Yeah, a few. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

Lord Vicar, Goatess, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Zone Six, Lykantropi, Earth, White Manna, Atala, Tia Carrera, Merlin, WEEED, Híbrido, Cities of Mars, Stone Machine Electric, Bretus, Blackwolfgoat, The Black Wizards, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Alunah, V, Pale Grey Lore, Leeds Point, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Spidergawd, Bus, Death Hawks, BBF, Vessel of Light, Crypt Trip, The Pilgrim, Uffe Lorenzen, Brant Bjork, Doomstress, Black Lung, Kandodo3, Monkey3, Bask, Horseburner, Zed, Bright Curse, Spillage, Sigils, Papir, Dune Sea, Destroyer of Light, Mastiff, Warp, Centrum, Varego, Lord Dying, Volcano, Saint Karloff, Firebreather, High Reeper, Bible of the Devil, Obsidian Sea, Torche, Motorpsycho, Sunn O))), Deadbird, Russian Circles, El Supremo, Pyramidal, Holy Serpent, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Demon Head, Red Beard Wall, Onhou, Kamchatka, Iguana, Arrowhead, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Serial Hawk, Scissorfight, Monte Luna, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Ruff Majik, The Giraffes, High Fighter, Comacozer, Burning Gloom, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Cable, AVER, Superlynx, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Old Mexico, Skraeckoedlan, Godsleep, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle.

Seems cruel to leave it to you to sort through those, but I’m tempted to do just that. You might notice some bigger names there in bands like Earth, Russian Circles, Torche and Sunn O))). Nothing against those bands, but I think we’re seeing a moment where a different group of artists are taking point in terms of innovating heavy styles across an entire swath of microgenres. Either way it’s not a slight that something is here instead of above. And of course, there are plenty of up and coming groups here as well, with Ruff Majik, Elizabeth Colour Wheel — who I’m sure would be a top 30 if I knew the record better than I do — Pale Grey Lore, Monte Luna, Papir, Destroyer of Light, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Skraeckoedlan, and so on, but hell’s bells, there’s already a list of 50 and I’m only one man. How high is the list supposed to go and still be a list?

Bottom line: Music is as endless as space and has as much beauty in it for those willing to hear. Do more digging.

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

1. Green Lung, Woodland Rites
2. Yatra, Death Ritual
3. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds
4. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
5. SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight
6. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
7. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
8. The Pilgrim, Walking into the Forest
9. Sigils, You Build the Altar You Lit the Leaves
10. E-L-R, Maenad
11. Hey Zeus, X
12. Bellrope, You Must Relax
13. Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore
14. Thronehammer, Usurper of Oaken Throne
15. Inner Altar, Vol. III
16. Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember
17. Hippie Death Cult, 111
18. Faerie Ring, The Clearing
19. Gone Cosmic, Sideways in Time
20. Haze Mage, Chronicles

Honorable Mention: Warp, Pelegrin, Lucy in Blue, Volcano, The Sabbathian, Red Eye Tales, Dune Sea, Dury Dava, Pharlee, Giant Dwarf, Ghost:Hello, Surya, Workshed, Children of the Sün, Burning Gloom, Temple of the Fuzz Witch.

Notes: As ever, I consider a band’s debut album something unique and separate from everything else they’ll ever do, and so worthy of highlighting in its own category. It’s a different standard in my mind, one that takes into account what a group might accomplish going forward as well as what they do on the record itself. Plus, putting out an album is hard. Getting two, three, four, five or more people to agree on anything is an accomplishment. Making a cohesive album? Come on. So yes. We see some crossover from the main list above, but I want to draw attention to Howling Giant, Thunderbird Divine and SÂVER particularly here. There’s a swath of genres represented and I feel like a couple of these releases — Sigils, Bellrope, Thronehammer, Inner Altar, Faerie Ring, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember — didn’t get their due attention. It’s a busy year, I get it. But if you’re skimming through looking for stuff to check out, DON’T IGNORE THIS LIST. Aside from whatever line about the best of tomorrow you want to trot out, there’s important work being done by these acts today. As somebody who’s constantly behind the times, I urge you not to

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

1. Geezer, Spiral Fires
2. Ufomammut, XX
3. All Them Witches, 1×1
4. Mount Saturn, Mount Saturn
5. Dopelord, Weedpecker, Major Kong & Spaceslug, 4-Way Split
6. Horehound, Weight
7. Molasses, Mourning Haze
8. Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Split
9. Here Lies Man, No Ground to Walk Upon
10. The Golden Grass, 100 Arrows
11. Mount Atlas, Mistress
12. Midas, Solid Gold Heavy Metal
13. Glory in the Shadows, Glory in the Shadows
14. Hot Breath, Hot Breath
15. Crystal Spiders, Demo
16. Red Wizard, Ogami
17. Thermic Boogie, Fracture
18. Pinto Graham, Dos
19. High Priest, Sanctum
20. Set Fire, Traya
21. Seedium, Awake

Honorable Mention: Love Gang & Smokey Mirror Split, Forebode, Land Mammal, Very Paranoia, Plague of Carcosa, Daal Dazed, Komodor, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge Split, High on Fire, Mount Soma.

Notes: This is probably the least complete of the lists, because it’s the hardest category for me to keep up with. EPs, singles, demos, splits and basically anything else that isn’t an album, all lumped together. Still, I stand by the picks here, and I don’t think anyone who takes on any of them will regret doing so, whether it’s All Them Witches’ surprisingly weighted first single as a trio, Mount Saturn’s debut release, or Geezer’s cosmic jams. Felt a little like cheating putting Ufomammut on there, since technically XX wasn’t new material so much as reworked stuff captured live, but if you want to call me out on it, my own listening habits also factor in, and I’ve spent plenty of time with those reimagined tracks. But anyway, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff that hasn’t been included here, so please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll work accordingly.

Postwax

I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of writing about it editorially, since I’ve been involved in discussions about it since before it came together and since I did the liner notes for each of the six releases (plus one to come), but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work done on the Postwax vinyl subscription series by Blues Funeral Recordings. Label head Jadd Shickler and design specialist Peder Bergstrand (also of Lowrider) put together six offerings that came out in the span of this year and when you hold the LPs in your hand, you can feel the passion that went into making them, from the artists in question to those curating the series in the first place. I hear tell there’s going to be a Postwax Year Two, and I don’t know if I’ll be involved or not, but I’m proud of my miniscule part in the work that went into making these and wanted to bring them to your particular attention. They are something special for those who got to partake:

  • Elder, The Gold and Silver Sessions
  • Daxma, Ruins Upon Ruins
  • Besvärjelsen, Frost
  • Big Scenic Nowhere, Dying on the Mountain
  • Domkraft, Slow Fidelity
  • Lowrider, Refractions

And while we’re talking about projects I was proud to be involved with, I also did liner notes for Acrimony’s The Chronicles of Wode box set from Burning World Records and was honored to do so. Thanks to any and everyone in question for having me involved and dealing with me blowing past deadlines one after the next. It is humbling.

Looking Ahead to 2020

A few names and nothing more about what definitely is and/or might be in the works for next year. Woefully incomplete, so feel free to add to it:

1000mods, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathwhite, Mondo Drag, Drug Cult, Ocean Chief, Soldati, Sergio Ch., Mitochondrial Sun, Geezer, Mirror Queen, Mondo Generator, The Otolith, Asteroid, Yatra, Vestal Claret, Farer, Ryte, Shadow Witch, Six Organs of Admittance, Naxatras, Wolftooth, Snail, Elder, Pale Divine, Grey Skies Fallen, Ruby the Hatchet, Yuri Gagarin, Sasquatch, Godthrymm, Wo Fat, Red Mesa, CB3, Onsegen Ensemble, Insect Ark, Acid Mammoth, Ritual King, Ulls, Om.

Thank You

Thank you for reading, and please, if you have a thought or something you want to share in the comments, please remember to be kind to each other. We are all human beings behind our phones and keyboards, and while we’ll disagree, often in some ways and some cases, a basic level of respect is always appreciated. At least by me.

I am not so deluded as to think anyone might still be reading, but I want it on record how much I appreciate you being a part of this site and a part of my experience in making it. I’ve been ruminating all year since marking the 10th anniversary back in January about how much The Obelisk has become a part of who I am, and it’s utterly essential to my every day. The way I continue to think about it — and myself, as it happens — is a work in progress, and that would not be possible without you. One more time. Thank you. Always. Always thank you. Thank you.

More to come.

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Bible Black Tyrant Premiere “Valorous”; Announce New Album Encased in Iron

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on October 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

bible black tyrant

Like their 2018 debut, Regret Beyond Death, Bible Black Tyrant‘s second album, the forthcoming Encased in Iron is a lesson in the sense of claustrophobia that post-metal can evoke when taken to a crushing extreme. Due out almost exactly two years to the day (just off by 12 days) from the issuance of its predecessor, on Feb. 28, 2020, through Argonauta Records, the Portland, Oregon, two-piece’s sophomore offering brings together five tracks of inhuman(e) punishment at the behest of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron D.C. Edge, whose history in sundry acts is documented enough around these parts that I don’t feel like I need to rattle off the list of bands he’s been in — a small sampling is in the PR wire info below anyhow — but Bible Black Tyrant are distinguished through the sheer intensity of the material and the atmospherics conjured. It is an intense presence brought to bear by Edge and drummer Tyler Smith (also of Eagle Twin), and all the more focused the second time around.

The fact that there even is a second album should tell you something, as generally Aaron Edge goes through bands the way most bands go through records, but one way or the other, Bible Black Tyrant‘s continuance has resulted in an all-the-more devastating aural havoc. It’s too methodical to call chaotic, but the churning intensity is undeniable, as the premiering track “Valorous” at the bottom of this post readily demonstrates. The word “tortured” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to heavy music. This or that sounds “tortured,” or “agonized,” etc. It’s a cliché of which I’m certainly guilty as well — I’m tortured about it, rest assured — but listening to Encased in Iron and then reading Edge‘s comments on the record (also below) wherein he says, “we are mistreated and then forgotten; that is the human experience,” the usage only seems to be appropriate. This record is fucking tortured. It is agonizing. It is brutal. I don’t think you could hear a song like “Panic Inducer” or even the drone-laced finale “Sickening Thrum” and say otherwise.

It’s a quick listen at 25 minutes, but don’t expect much by way of mercy in that time.

Here’s info and audio and links:

Bible Black Tyrant Encased in Iron

BIBLE BLACK TYRANT (feat. Lumbar’s Aaron Edge & Tyler Smith of Eagle Twin) Reveal Album Details And Unleash First Single Of Sophomore Record!

Encased in Iron due out in February 2020 on Argonauta Records!

Their sound pummels, you feel it in your guts. It disturbs your mind but gives you the chills to the same time. It’s the apocalypse and pure perfection of all that is heavy: Noise Doom duo BIBLE BLACK TYRANT, featuring masterminds Aaron D.C. Edge and Tyler Smith – renowned members of bands such as Eagle Twin, Lumbar, Ramprasad, Form of Rocket, Minor Fret, Canyon of the Crescent Moon and Hellvetika – returns with their sophomore album, Encased in Iron, on February 28th 2020 with Argonauta Records! Following their highly acclaimed, 2018-debut album, Regret Beyond Death, today the heavy music veterans have revealed the hotly anticipated details of their second, full-length album, and unleashed a first single!

“‘Encased in Iron’, Bible Black Tyrant’s second release, focuses on the torture that is human existence.” Aaron Edge comments. “A black curse, whispered perverse by loved ones that spit on us. Tasting bile, and the salt of our own tears in this vault. Savoring our own severed tongues. Trying to utter sounds while boiling. Do you know how you taste while trapped and locked in a box? As the steel heats, bravery is replaced with fear. Life in the iron cage, with little air to breathe, starving. We are mistreated and then forgotten; that is the human experience.”

Encased in Iron Tracklisting:
1. A Snowflake of Death’s Denial
2. Valorous
3. Panic Inducer
4. Infinite Stages of Grief
5. Sickening Thrum

BIBLE BLACK TYRANT’s upcoming album was recorded by Aaron Edge at Myelin Studio, while the drums were documented and mixed by Andy Patterson at The Boar’s Nest. With a final mix and mastering by Eric Leavell at Husk Recording, the pre-sale for Encased in Iron – available on LP, CD and Digital formats February 28th 2020 – has just begun via the Argonauta Records store at THIS LOCATION. Highly recommended for fans of Iron Monkey, Eyehategod, Cursed, Indian, Keelhaul, and Cavity!

BIBLE BLACK TYRANT is:
Aaron D.C. Edge: Guitar / Bass / Cello / Midi / Vocals
Tyler Smith: Drums

Bible Black Tyrant, “Valorous” official track premiere

Bible Black Tyrant on Thee Facebooks

Bible Black Tyrant on Bandcamp

Argonauta Records website

Argonauta Records on Thee Facebooks

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Quarterly Review: Total Fucking Destruction, Hippie Death Cult, The Cosmic Dead, Greenthumb, Elepharmers, Nothing is Real, Warish, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge, Those Furious Flames, Mantra Machine

Posted in Reviews on October 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

I’d like to find the jerk who decided that the week I fly to Norway was a good time for the Quarterly Review. That, obviously, was a tactical error on my part. Nonetheless, we press on with day four, which I post from Oslo on CET. Whatever time zone you may find yourself in this Thursday, I hope you have managed to find something so far in this onslaught of whatnot to sink your chompers into. That’s ultimately, why we’re here. Also because there are so many folders with albums in them on my desktop that I can’t stand it anymore. Happens about every three months.

But anyhoozle, we press on with Day Four of the Fall 2019 Quarterly Review, dutiful and diligent and a couple other words that start with ‘d.’ Mixed bag stylistically this time — trying to throw myself off a bit — so should be fun. Let’s dive in.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Total Fucking Destruction, #USA4TFD

Total Fucking Destruction USA4TFD

Who the hell am I to be writing about a band like Total Fucking Destruction? I don’t know. Who the hell am I to be writing about anything. Fuck you. As the Rich Hoak (Brutal Truth)-led Philly natives grind their way through 23 tracks in a 27-minute barrage of deceptively thoughtful sonic extremity, they efficiently chronicle the confusion, tumult and disaffection of our age both in their maddening energy and in the poetry — yeah, I said it — of their lyrics. To it, from “Is Your Love a Rainbow”: “Are you growing? Is everything okay? Are you growing in the garden of I don’t know?” Lines like this are hardly decipherable without a lyric sheet, of course, but still, they’re there for those ready to look beyond the surface assault of the material, though, frankly, that assault alone would be enough to carry the band — Hoak on drums/vocals, Dan O’Hare on guitar/vocals and Ryan Moll on bass/vocals — along their willfully destructive course. For their fourth LP in 20 years — most of that time given to splits and shorter releases, as one might expect — Total Fucking Destruction make their case for an end of the world that, frankly, can’t get here fast enough.

Total Fucking Destruction on Thee Facebooks

Give Praise Records website

 

Hippie Death Cult, 111

Hippie-Death-Cult-111

Issued first by the band digitally and on CD and then by Cursed Tongue Records on vinyl, 111 is the impressively toned debut full-length from Portland, Oregon’s Hippie Death Cult, who cull together heavy rock and post-grunge riffing with flourish of organ and a densely-weighted groove that serves as an overarching and uniting factor throughout. With the bluesy, classic feeling vocals of Ben Jackson cutting through the wall of fuzz from Eddie Brnabic‘s guitar and Laura Phillips‘ bass set to roll by Ryan Moore‘s drumming, there’s never any doubt as to where Hippie Death Cult are coming from throughout the seven-track/42-minute offering, but longer, side-ending pieces “Unborn” (8:24) and “Black Snake” (9:06) touch respectively on psychedelia and heavy blues in a way that emphasizes the subtle turns that have been happening all along, not just in shifts like the acoustic “Mrtyu,” but in the pastoral bridge and ensuing sweep of “Pigs” as well. “Sanctimonious” and “Breeder’s Curse” provide even ground at the outset, and from there, Hippie Death Cult only grow richer in sound along their way.

Hippie Death Cult on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records BigCartel store

 

The Cosmic Dead, Scottish Space Race

The Cosmic Dead Scottish Space Race

Heavyweight Glaswegian space jammers The Cosmic Dead present four massive slabs of lysergic intensity with their eighth long-player, Scottish Space Race (on Riot Season Records), working quickly to pull the listener into their gravity well and holding them there for the 2LP’s 75-minute duration. As hypnotic as it is challenging, the initial churn that emerges in the aptly-named 20-minute opener “Portal” clenches the stomach brutally, and it’s not until after about 12 minutes that the band finally lets it loose. “Ursa Major,” somewhat thankfully, is more serene, but still carries a sense of movement and build in its second half, while the 12-minute title-track is noisier and has the surprising inclusion of vocals from the generally instrumental outfit. They cap with the 24-minute kosmiche throb of “The Grizzard,” and there are vocals there too, but they’re too obscured to be really discernible in any meaningful way, and of course the end of the record itself is a huge wash of fuckall noise. Eight records deep, The Cosmic Dead know what they’re doing in this regard, and they do it among the best of anyone out there.

The Cosmic Dead on Thee Facebooks

Riot Season Records website

 

Greenthumb, There are More Things

greenthumb there are more things

With just three tracks across a 20-minute span, There are More Things (on Acid Cosmonaut) feels like not much more than a sampler of things to come from Italian post-sludgers Greenthumb, who take their name from a Bongzilla track they also covered on their 2018 debut EP, West. The three-songer feels like a decided step forward from that offering, and though they maintain their screamier side well enough, they might be on the verge of needing a new name, as the rawness conveyed by the current moniker hardly does justice to the echoing atmospherics the band in their current incarnation bring. Launching with the two seven-minute cuts “The Field” and “Ogigia’s Tree,” they unfurl a breadth of roll so as to ensnare the listener, and though “The Black Court” is shorter at 5:37 and a bit more straight-ahead in its structure, it still holds to the ambient sensibility of its surroundings well, the band obviously doing likewise in transposing a natural feel into their sound born of landscape real or imagined.

Greenthumb on Thee Facebooks

Acid Cosmonaut Records on Bandcamp

 

Elepharmers, Lords of Galaxia

Elepharmers Lords Of Galaxia Artwork

Riffy Sardinians Elepharmers set themselves to roll with “Ancient Astronauts” and do not stop from there on Lords of Galaxia, their third LP and debut through Electric Valley Records. There are some details of arrangement between the guitars of El Chino (also bass, vocals and harmonica) and Andrea “Fox” Cadeddu and the drums of Maurizio Mura, but as Marduk heralds his age on second cut “Ziqqurat,” the central uniting factor is g-r-o-o-v-e, and Elepharmers have it down through “The Flood” and into side B’s classic stoner rocking “Foundation” and the driving “The Mule,” which shifts into laser-effects ahead of the fade that brings in closer “Stars Like Dust” for the last 10 minutes of the 47-minute offering. And yes, there’s some psychedelia there, but Elepharmers stay pretty clearheaded on the whole in such a way as to highlight the sci-fi theme that seems to draw the songs together as much as the riffage. More focus on narrative can only help bring that out more, but I’m not sure I’d want that at the expense of the basic songwriting, which isn’t at all broken and thus requires no fixing.

Elepharmers on Thee Facebooks

Electric Valley Records website

 

Nothing is Real, Only the Wicked are Pure

nothing is real only the wicked are pure

How do you recognize true misanthropy when you come across it? It doesn’t wear a special kind of facepaint, though it can. It doesn’t announce itself as such. It is a frame. Something genuinely antisocial and perhaps even hateful is a worldview. It’s not raise-a-claw-in-the-woods. It’s he-was-a-quiet-loner. And so, coming across the debut album from Los Angeles experimentalist doom outfit, one gets that lurking, creeping feeling of danger even though the music itself isn’t overly abrasive. But across the 2CD debut album, a sprawl of darkened, viciously un-produced fare that seems to be built around programmed drums at the behest of Craig Osbourne — who may or may not be the only person in the band and isn’t willing to say otherwise — plays out over the course of more than two hours like a manifesto found after the fact. Imagine chapters called “Hope is Weakness,” “Fingered by the Hand of God,” and “Uplift the Worthy (Destroy the Weak).” The last of those appears on both discs — as do several of the songs in different incarnations — as the track marries acoustic and eventual harder-edged guitar around murderous themes, sounding something like Godflesh might have if they’d pursued a darker path. Scary.

Nothing is Real on Thee Facebooks

Nothing is Real on Bandcamp

 

Warish, Down in Flames

warish down in flames

The fact that Warish are blasting hard punk through heavy blowout tones isn’t what everyone wants to talk about when it comes to the band. They want to talk about the fact that it’s Riley Hawk — of royal stock, as regards pro skateboarding — fronting the band. Well, that’s probably good for a built-in social media following — name recognition never hurts, and I don’t see a need to pretend otherwise — but it doesn’t do shit for the album itself. What matters about the album is that bit about the blasting blowout. With Down in Flames (on RidingEasy), the Oceanside three-piece follow-up their earlier-2019 debut EP with 11 tracks that touch on horror punk with “Bones” and imagine grunge-unhinged with “Fight” and “You’ll Abide,” but are essentially a display of tonal fuckall presented not to add to a brand, but to add the soundtrack to somebody’s blackout. It’s a good time and the drunkest, gnarliest, most-possibly-shirtless dude in the room is having it. Also he probably smells. And he just hugged you. Down in Flames gets high with that dude. That matters more than who anyone’s dad is.

Warish on Thee Facebooks

RidingEasy Records website

 

Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge, Split

It’s a double-dose of New England doom as Connecticut’s Mourn the Light and Boston’s Oxblood Forge pair up for a split release. The former bring more material than the latter, particularly when one counts the digital-only bonus cover of Candlemass‘ “Bewitched,” but with both groups, it’s a case of what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Both groups share a clear affinity for classic metal — and yes, that absolutely extends to the piano-led drama of Mourn the Light‘s mournful “Carry the Flame” — but Oxblood Forge‘s take thereupon is rougher edged, harder in its tone and meaner in the output. Their “Screams From Silence” feels like something from a dubbed-and-mailed tape circa ’92. Mourn the Light’s “Drags Me Down” is cleaner-sounding, but no less weighted. I don’t think either band is out to change the world, or even to change doom, but they’re doing what they’re doing well and without even an ounce of pretense — well, maybe a little bit in that piano track; but it’s very metal pretense — and clearly from the heart. That might be the most classic-metal aspect of all.


Mourn the Light on Thee Facebooks

Oxblood Forge on Thee Facebooks

 

Those Furious Flames, HeartH

those furious flames hearth

Swiss heavy rockers Those Furious Flames push the boundaries of psychedelia, but ultimately remain coherent in their approach. Likewise, they very, very obviously are into some classic heavy rock and roll, but their take on it is nothing if not modern. And more, they thrive in these contradictions and don’t at all sound like their songs are in conflict with themselves. I guess that’s the kind of thing one can pull off after 15 years together on a fifth full-length, which HeartH (on Vincebus Eruptum) is for them. Perhaps it’s the fact that they let the energy of pieces like “VooDoo” and the boogie-laced “HPPD” carry them rather than try to carry it, but either way, it’s clearly about the songs first, and it works. With added flash of organ amid the full-sounding riffs, Those Furious Flames round out with the spacey “Visions” and earn every bit of the drift therein with a still-resonant vocal harmony. You might not get it all the first time, but listening twice won’t be at all painful.

Those Furious Flames on Thee Facebooks

Vincebus Eruptum Recordings BigCartel store

 

Mantra Machine, Heliosphere

mantra machine heliosphere

This is what it’s all about. Four longer-form instrumentalist heavy psych jams that are warm in tone and want nothing so much as to go out wandering and see what they can find. Through “Hydrogen,” “Atmos,” “Delta-V” and “Heliosphere,” Amsterdam-based three-piece Mantra Machine want nothing for gig-style vitality, but their purpose isn’t so much to electrify as to find that perfect moment of chill and let it go, see where it ends up, and they get there to be sure. Warm guitar and bass tones call to mind something that might’ve come out of the Netherlands at the start of this decade, when bands like Sungrazer and The Machine were unfolding such fluidity as seemed to herald a new generation of heavy psychedelia across Europe. That generation took a different shape — several different shapes, in the end — but Mantra Machine‘s Heliosphere makes it easy to remember what was so exciting about that in the first place. Total immersion. Total sense of welcoming. Totally human presence without speaking a word. So much vibe. So much right on.

Mantra Machine on Thee Facebooks

Mantra Machine on Bandcamp

 

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Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter: Moonlit Daylight

Posted in Reviews on September 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

blackwater holylight veils of winter

About a year and a half ago, Portland, Oregon’s Blackwater Holylight released their RidingEasy Records-delivered self-titled debut (review here), and thereby immediately brought new character to Pacific Coast psychedelia, something distinct from Caliboogie and Douglas-fir meditations, yet drawing from those and a host of other sonic micropockets for a drifting take on what might otherwise just simply be a classic garage style. On the band’s quick-turnaround follow-up, Veils of Winter (also RidingEasy), it isn’t “just” or “simply” anything in terms of aesthetic, as the five-piece of bassist/vocalist Allison “Sunny” Faris, guitarist/vocalist Laura Hopkins, synthesist Sarah McKenna, guitarist Mikayla Mayhew and drummer Eliese Dorsay ignite a swath of heavy pulsations and drifting progressions, showcasing a patience for craft on cuts like “Daylight” that leaves one scratching their head at how it’s only been a year(-plus) since the first record.

Their dynamic, range and confidence in vocal harmonies have all progressed to a marked degree, and even with the new personnel involved, Veils of Winter feels very much like a moment in which Blackwater Holylight are becoming the band Farris set out to be in when she started the project. That includes setting a broader scope between the lumbering buzz of opener “Seeping Secrets” and the almost-surf bounce of the subsequent “Motorcycle,” which in its back half manages to offer some of Veils of Winter‘s heaviest bass, feeling all the more weighted for the ethereal line of synth floating overtop.

That’s to say nothing of the later soundscaping triumph of the penultimate “Lullaby” — okay, so maybe there’s some Cascadian forest worship happening after all as the title-line of the album is delivered — but one way or the other, what’s happening across the eight-track/40-minute offering is that Blackwater Holylight are harnessing their influences and stepping out in front of them in righteous fashion, whether that’s the foreboding, nigh-on-doomly plod of “The Protector” or the brighter, folk-infused melodies of closer “Moonlit.” Through hypnotic rhythm and engaging harmonies, Veils of Winter establishes Blackwater Holylight among the more essential US-based heavy psych purveyors, both accomplished in the work they’ve done to-date across their two LPs and still rife with potential.

As a whole, Veils of Winter is nothing less than a clinic in molten heavy psychedelia. It has an overarching flow that, if you’re not careful, is consuming to the point of losing oneself in the drift. Whether it’s Farris‘ languid vocal delivery or the depth and warmth of the tones surrounding — or, most often, both — Blackwater Holylight unite their songs through this natural presentation such that even a relatively straightforward rocker like the three-and-a-half-minute “Spiders” on side A, with a quieter verse and a takeoff in the chorus and a Halloween-style spooky riff that I’ll call fun and mean it 100 percent as a compliment, has a sense of presence both within itself and in the context of the surrounding material. Seemingly set up with vinyl in mind, Veils of Winter ends its initial salvo with “Spiders” following the yes-yes-yes rumble at the outset of “Seeping Secrets” and the likewise fluid groove of “Motorcycle,” both of which prove deceptively heavy for having so much of a sleepy mood.

blackwater holylight

The same could be said of what follows, but the direction taken shifts some with “The Protector,” and that serves as a transition to side B’s generally longer-form, more open-feeling pieces. The ending of “The Protector” is especially crucial, as the song seems to come apart even as it’s in the midst of riding out its last nod, leaving a stretch of silence — the vinyl flip if you’re listening to the 12″ — before the standalone guitar of “Daylight” takes hold. That moment of silence helps to convey the sense of going from one place to another, which, within the sphere of the album’s entirety, is essentially what has happened between the two tracks. “Daylight” is slower to take hold, more patient in its build, but resoundingly tense in its prominent keys and darker tonal undercurrent; affecting the sound of a gathering storm while remaining minimally theatrical in terms of the outward delivery. This as well is no minor feat.

More over, it is the lead-in to side B’s purposefully broader range. Think of it this way: side A has one song over five minutes long (“The Protector”), side B has one song under. And that track is “Death Realms,” at 4:43, which follows “Daylight” and answers its consuming morass with a revived sense of movement that nonetheless remains ethereal in its later wash of keys and guitar and a melody and vocal patterning that seems to swap out grunge for dark new wave in effective fashion as Blackwater Holylight toy with the new conventions of genre. What follows in “Lullaby” and “Moonlit” is simply some of the most beautiful psychedelic rock I’ve heard in 2019, encompassing in sprawl but still intimate feeling thanks to moments like the standout guitar line right after the vocal line at 3:33 into “Lullaby” or the sweet and winding keyboard line harnessing classic acid-folk past the halfway point in “Moonlit,” just when that song seems to be moving into the build that finds payoff in a forward guitar solo to come at about the 5:30 mark and the return to the central riff with added crash that caps off.

Veils of Winter, even in its most relatively earthbound moments on side A — and that’s some serious relativity there — is full of these nuances and details, flourishes of arrangement that are more than simple indulgences for what they do in serving and enriching the lush front-to-back listening experience. Blackwater Holylight made it clear with their first record that they were bringing to life a specific aesthetic idea, and Veils of Winter answers that with a more complex manifestation that feels even closer to an initial vision hinted at by its predecessor. At the same time, it is unquestionably a forward step in terms of songwriting and performance, and shows the dynamic the five-piece have been able to harness on tour over the last year. Given the work they’ve done here, it feels greedy to hope they keep pushing themselves in this direction, but I do anyway. It’s hard not to with a band making records this exciting.

Tune in, switch on. Recommended.

Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter (2019)

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Blackwater Holylight on Instagram

Blackwater Holylight on Bandcamp

RidingEasy Records website

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Ramprasad Premiere “Westing, Pt. II”; Tsuris out Oct. 11

Posted in audiObelisk on September 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

ramprasad

Having in the interim built a full four-piece lineup, Portland, Oregon’s Ramprasad will release the follow-up to their 2018 debut EP, Ruinenlust (review here), on Oct. 11 through Anima Recordings. The album is titled Tsuris and comprises 11 tracks/46 minutes of densely atmospheric instrumental post-metal, marked by its overarching sense of moodiness and a rumble that extends through the bass and guitar as both seem to follow the same chugging path forward. At the same time, drone-based interlude pieces “Bereaved,” “Black Pond” and “Repellent Whisper” provide a respite from the surrounding crush, and shorter-but-still-plenty-heavy cuts like “Cloud Hauler,” “Controlling Tides” and “Westing, Pt. I” add character while bolstering both the sense of immersion and the variety of the offering as a whole. Yes, Ramprasad are heavy, but they’re not just one kind of heavy, as even the meat of opener “Splintered Helve” or “Baric” or the nine-minute “Dimming a Lit Path” or the closing duo of “Westing, Pt. II” and “Dust Burner” demonstrate plainly while offering some of Tsuris‘ most vicious moments.

The full breadth might — perhaps unsurprisingly — be most on display in “Dimming a Lit Path,” in addition to being the longest inclusion on Tsuris takes a more directly ambient-sludge approach to setting its brooding vibe, though one might say the same of “Baric” earlier on. Both seem to draw from the mid-aughts-Earth-via-Neurosis pantheon of execution, and while I wouldn’t call them as patient as the former or as tense as the latter, the atmosphere conjured by David Fylstra and Aaron D.C. Edge — who recorded these tracks before Peter Layman and Pierre Carbuccia joined the band — is nonetheless reminiscent in its landscape-evocative manifestations, though I suppose the landscape is less prairie sprawl or post-apocalyptic wasteland than it is a ghost forest. Either way, it comes through vividly in the sparse guitar of “Repellent Whisper” and the build that follows at the outset of “Dimming a Lit Path,” which feel like a journey apart from the angularity at the start of Tsuris with the stops and mutes of “Splintered Helve” amid a still-rolling overarching nod.

They make it go, and they make it go where they want to, but Ramprasad don’t ever seem to set Tsuris wandering for its own sake. There’s atmospheric intention even to the quietest reaches throughout, as Edge and Fylstra lead out of the strumming finish of “Baric” and through “Black Pond” en route to the pummel’s resuming in “Controlling Tides.” There are moments where it’s easy enough to hear where vocals might fit, as in the apex of “Dimming a Lit Path,” but there’s no question that Ramprasad take advantage of the liberation from verses and choruses in this material, setting parts and entire tracks against each other in either complement or contrast, or, as in the best of cases, both. As they lumber their way through “Westing, Pt. II” with due intensity of purpose and ensuing mathy chug, they set up “Dust Burner” to push that thread even further before letting out a more spacious but still weighted resolution for the album as a whole; a relatively understated finish that suits Tsuris well for going against post-metallic convention, as Ramprasad clearly aren’t subject to those limits either.

I’m happy today to be able to host premiere of “Westing, Pt. II” ahead of Tsuris‘ Oct. 11 arrival. You’ll find it on the player below, followed by more from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Ramprasad – Tsuris cassette and digital full-length album

Ramprasad is the collaboration of Portland, OR musicians Aaron D.C. Edge (Lumbar, Process Black, Bible Black Tyrant), David Fylstra (Folian, KVØID), Peter Layman and Pierre Carbuccia (both of Flood Peak, Sól).

Ramprasad was formed in April of 2016 by Aaron and David, who performed all music on this recording. October of 2018 saw the addition of Layman on 2nd guitar and Carbuccia on bass. The band has performed with notable acts such as Cult Leader, Heiress, Noisem, and Call of the Void.

Ramprasad Tsuris tapeRamprasad’s debut full-length “Tsuris” takes us on a daringly adventurous and expansive sonic journey. The instrumental music within these eleven tracks manages to merge elements of metal, sludge, electronic, hardcore, post-rock, and noise, creating a crushingly heavy, cinematic-like sonic experience.

Drums were recorded by Zak Kimball at Nomah Studios in Portland. All other music recorded and finally mixed by David at Candlewolfe Sound in Portland. It was mastered by Zach Weeks at Godcity Studio in Salem, MA. Artwork by Dylan Garrett Smith.

“Tsuris” is a proper follow up to their 2018 EP, “Ruinenlust”. There will be a limited amount of cassettes via Anima Recordings, which are now available for pre-order, as well as a full digital release on October 11th.

Track Listing (total run time 46:42):
01. Splintered Helve
02. Bereaved
03. Cloud Hauler
04. Baric
05. Black Pond
06. Controlling Tides
07. Repellent Whisper
08. Dimming A Lit Path
09. Westing, Pt. I
10. Westing, Pt. II
11. Dust Burner

Catalouge: ANIMA-018
Release Date: Oct. 11th, 2019

Personnel:
Aaron D.C. Edge – guitar
David Fylstra – drums, synth, noise
(bass performed by Aaron and David)

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