The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

Buy-Custom-Essays-Online.com is the Best review to buy dissertation online for affordable price Notes personal statement buy Review Essay Writing Services maynard 2006 disney literary analysis essay writing : To say nothing of the honorable mentions that follow the rest of the list below, immediately we see the problem of so-many-albums-not-enough-space. People talk about a top 50 as ridiculous, like there’s no way you can like that much music. Bullshit. I agonized over how to fit Sun Crow on this list because their Quest for Oblivion felt like it deserved to be here. Ditto that for Arcadian Child. And the achievements of bands like Kadavar, 1000mods and Switchblade Jesus and Insect Ark in breaking the boundaries of their own aesthetics deserve every accolade they can get, and likewise those who progressed in their sound like Cortez, Shadow Witch, Lord Fowl, Hymn, Foot, Black Rainbows, Deathwhite and IAH. Add to that the debuts from Atramentus, Dirt Woman, Jointhugger, Acid Mess and Sergio Ch.’s Soldati, and you’ve got a batch of 20 records — some born of this year’s malaise, some working in spite of it — that vary in sound but are working to push their respective styles to new places one way or the other.

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

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29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

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28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

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27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

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26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

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

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

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

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

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

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

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

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

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

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

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

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

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2021

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 38

Posted in Radio on July 10th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

Good show. As of this writing, I haven’t cut the voice tracks yet for the breaks, but there’s really only so much I can do to screw it up, though I’m sure one way or the other I’ll try. My head’s been pretty deep in longer-form stuff lately — really pushing for that mental-escape aspect of listening — so there’s not a lot here that departs from that, new cuts from The Atomic Bitchwax and All Souls notwithstanding, as they were both too killer not to include.

But last time around I played “Dopesmoker,” so I guess I don’t need to tell you my head’s into longer songs. Still, with the doomly start this one gets from DopelordMalsten and Pale Divine, and the sheer out-there vibe of OZO after the heavy post-rock of Dystopian Future Movies, and the culmination from the shape-of-metal-to-come brought to bear by Forlesen and the gloriously shapeless psychedelia of Temple Fang right after, I dig this one. I dig all of them, yeah, but this one too.

And as per usual, I hope you do as well.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today on the Gimme app or at http://gimmeradio.com

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 07.10.20

Dopelord Doom Bastards Sign of the Devil
Malsten Torsion The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Pale Divine Consequence of Time Consequence of Time
BREAK
The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio Scorpio
Familiars Barn Burning All in Good Time
Dystopian Future Movies Ten Years Inviolate
OZO Pluto Pluto
Spiral Galaxy Machine D Spiral Galaxy
All Souls Death Becomes Us Songs for the End of the World
BREAK
Forlesen Nightbridge Hierophant Violent
Temple Fang Gemini/Silky Servants Live at Merleyn

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is July 24 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Metal website

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Review & Lyric Video Premiere: Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on June 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

[Click play above to see the premiere of Pale Divine’s lyric video for ‘Saints of Fire.’ Consequence of Time is out June 26 and available to preorder from Cruz Del Sur: CD preorder, LP preorder w/ poster & download, digital release June 19.]

Even among American traditionalist doom — which as a whole is underrated — there aren’t many who reach the same echelons in that regard as Pale Divine. Also their debut release for Cruz Del Sur MusicConsequence of Time is their sixth full-length, and as it arrives just two years after 2018’s self-titled LP (review here), it also marks the quickest time differential the Chesapeake-region group — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware — have ever had between two offerings. Pale Divine, the record, was notable for marking the first appearance of Ron “Fezz” McGinnis on bass and backing vocals, who brought the five-string acumen he’d demonstrated in Admiral Browning and countless others to the classic-style rolling riffs and searing leads of guitarist Greg Diener (also vocals) and the ever-steady, never-flashy, always-efficient drumming of Darin McCloskey. On the eight-song/42-minute Consequence of Time, there is another significant change in the band’s makeup.

Even as they were releasing the self-titled, Pale Divine announced the addition of Dana Ortt on guitar and vocals alongside Diener, a shift that was essentially a merging between Pale Divine and the Ortt-led Beelzefuzz, in which Diener and McCloskey had both been members. The end result is that between DienerOrtt and McGinnisPale Divine now have three vocalists capable of carrying a song on their own, whether it’s Diener‘s metal-tinged proclamations, Ortt‘s bizarro-prog otherworldliness, complemented by his nuance of guitar tone, or McGinnis with his lower register bluesy take. Unsurprisingly, Consequence of Time is easily the most diverse album Pale Divine have ever made, and perhaps also the richest in terms of its general approach, since the influences especially of its two guitarists are readily on display, whether it’s in the Beelzefuzzian chug and dreamstate lumber of “Phantasmagoria” or in Diener‘s veritable clinic on how to shred a solo and still give a sense of soul in the process.

It bears underscoring just how significant of a turn Consequence of Time is for Pale Divine. The band mark their 25th anniversary in 2020, having begun with McCloskey and Diener in 1995 before releasing their first demo a couple years later. It seems to me not just a marked change in terms of the band’s sound that welcoming Ortt has enacted, but a genuinely admirable openness on the part of Diener. Yes, there’s “sharing the spotlight,” as much as such a thing exists in a genre where one might be inclined in the first sentence of a review to point out how underrated it is, but more than that, to have the ability after some 20 years of having the band as a vehicle for his songwriting to be able to adjust the entire process in such a way is staggering.

pale divine

Ortt doesn’t just sing backup on Consequence of Time, and he makes a mark in terms of the overall style of riffs and tones as well on songs like “Broken Martyr,” “Satan in Starlight,” and even the Diener-led opener “Tyrants/Pawns (Easy Prey).” It’s a rare band and a rare player who would allow that kind of shift to take place at any point, let alone after 20 years, and Pale Divine are unquestionably stronger for it. The patience in the 10-minute unfolding of the 10-minute title-track alone is proof of the subtle level on which the change can be felt, a melding of purpose between what Beelzefuzz were by their finish and the roots-doom mindset that Pale Divine have always portrayed so well.

Perhaps it’s sharing vocal duties that has allowed Diener‘s guitar to shine all the more, but his leads soar throughout Consequence of Time in striking fashion, and with McGinnis‘ bass and McCloskey‘s drums behind, there’s never any risk of the band losing their trajectory whatsoever. As the title-track approaches the halfway mark, Diener and Ortt share vocals against a stark and largely quiet backdrop ahead of the next classic metal lead (it might be Ortt‘s, I can’t be sure), but that moment sums up the incredible, throw-the-doors-open spirit of Consequence of Time. Ortt takes the fore later, and Diener rejoins and the two guitars lock purposes in solos and riffs to close out, but in that moment, not only the change of the band’s sound, but the creative spirit that drove that change are palpable. The risk and the reward both are right there for the listener to absorb.

The subsequent closing pair “No Escape” and “Saints of Fire” would seem to be an epilogue of sorts, or at least a movement unto themselves after the title-track, but their purpose isn’t lost for existing in the shadow of the 10-minute cut preceding. In the speedy “No Escape,” Diener fronts, and they trade for “Saints of Fire,” and it’s a last-minute showcase of the multifaceted nature of who Pale Divine are in 2020 and what they can accomplish as a group in this new form. “No Escape” gallops in brash form and is probably the most fun I’ve ever heard Pale Divine have on a record, and “Saints of Fire” pushes in its second half into a quirky dark gorgeousness that feels like pure inheritance from Beelzefuzz put to righteous use. Pale Divine, the power-trio turned four-piece after 20-some years, march their way out of Consequence of Time and into an unknowable future as a stronger, more versatile and more vibrant unit.

The band they were is still very much present in their sound, and they remain as sonically committed to doom as they’ve ever been, but the foundation of influence has expanded and their craft is all the more affecting and progressive for it. Between the quick turnaround, the new label and the new construction, Pale Divine move into their second quarter-century with an almost impossible feeling of potential, and one can only look forward to what they might yet accomplish as they move on from here. 25 years on and reaching new heights. That is a special band, and yes, vastly underrated. They may stay that way and they may not, but one way or the other, Consequence of Time will stand as one of 2020’s foremost offerings in doom, and deservedly so.

Pale Divine on Thee Facebooks

Pale Divine website

Cruz del Sur Music website

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Days of Rona: Darin McCloskey of Pale Divine

Posted in Features on May 19th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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

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

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

pale divine darin mccloskey

Days of Rona: Darin McCloskey of Pale Divine (West Chester, Pennsylvania)

How have you been dealing with this crisis as a band? As an individual? What effect has it had on your plans or creative processes?

Well as a band, like many others it has us on hiatus; practice, gigs and writing as a group came to an abrupt halt. That being said we had just finished recording our new album ‘Consequence of Time’, and are currently positioning ourselves to introduce the album. We’re hoping that we can get out and play live here in the near future. As an individual I can honestly say that it hasn’t had that much of an effect on me personally. I’m a homebody and with an “essential worker status” my routine has primarily stayed intact. I really feel for the people whose life has been upended by the pandemic.

How do you feel about the public response to the outbreak where you are? From thegovernment response to the people around you, what have you seen and heard from others?

That’s a difficult question to answer. I think that the response should directly relate to the overall numbers of cases asymptomatic, symptomatic, deaths, age ranges and regions. Trouble with this is the numbers have been all over the place depending on the source. Pennsylvania recently had to reduce the death toll by a little over 200 due to corrections between probable and confirmed cases. I can understand that people fear the unknown, I just hope it doesn’t cripple us as a society. I would like everyone to enjoy living rather than concentrating on what could possibly kill you. I think a balance is what we all need…but that’s just me. You should be able to be concerned, take precautions but not let it consume you.

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

I think the music community shines in situations like these. Not only does it give them time for creativity, it also shines a light on their personable nature. I see bands reaching out, live streaming, simply talking about life in general. I’ve seen some drawing attention to people and establishments in need. I personally enjoy the time spent with my wife, my dogs and record collection. That being said it will be great playing live again and going to some concerts. Fingers crossed that it will be soon.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, orpersonally, or anything? What is your new normal? What have you learned from this experience, about yourself, your band, or anything?

I can’t complain about my situation, to do so would make light of the hardships so many are going through right now. As for “New Normal,” I truly hope that in the future this will be no one’s new normal. There needs to be precautions until we know the true scope of this virus. I just hope that we can soon move forward and enjoy life again. Life is to be lived, but for now stay safe and keep your eye on the prize.

https://www.facebook.com/serpentspath/
http://www.paledivineband.com/
cruzdelsurmusic.com
facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic
cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 33

Posted in Radio on May 1st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

Plenty of familiar stuff here if you’ve been hanging around the site lately, but there’s some stuff I haven’t written about yet too. The theme, such as it was — and man, themes are loose with this show anyway, but this one felt even more so — was just good stuff that happened in April. Today’s May 1, and it feels like last month was just lost on so many levels, that I wanted to highlight a few of the good things that happened despite the chaos and the dire feelings that defined so much of the time.

My point is the same as ever: Music still sounds good. If you’ve got that, you’ve got something to hold onto. If there’s nothing else, there’s music. That’s all I’m ever really saying. Sorry to spoil it. Now you don’t have to look at The Obelisk anymore. You’re all done.

You should still listen to the show though because I recorded the voice tracks for it on my phone while I was going to buy fresh mozzarella, and considering New Jersey’s got over 100,000 cases of COVID-19, the sheer Jersey-ness of the endeavor really I think shines through. Plus in the second break, if you stick it out, I say the word “awesome” like 50 times and sound like a total doofus, and that’s worth hearing. I overuse “awesome” anyway, but really, it sounds silly here. I listened back and heard it and decided to leave it in. Hell, at least it’s real.

Thanks for listening if you do.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today on the Gimme app or at http://gimmeradio.com

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 05.01.20

Elder Halcyon Omens*
Elephant Tree Exit the Soul Habits*
Forming the Void Ancient Satellite Reverie*
BREAK
Foghound Turn Off the World Turn Off the World*
Lord Fowl The Wraith Glorious Babylon*
Soldati Solar Tse Doom Nacional*
Trippy Wicked Green Memories Three Leaves / Green Memories*
Satyrus Black Satyrus Rites*
Marrowfields Dragged to the World Below Metamorphoses*
Pale Divine Tyrants / Pawns (Easy Prey) Consequence of Time*
Paradise Lost Fall From Grace Obsidian*
Katatonia Behind the Blood City Burials*
Itus Primordial Primordial*
BREAK
River Cult Chilling Effect Chilling Effect*
Astral Bodies Mythic Phantoms Escape Death*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is May 15 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

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Descendants of Crom IV Lineup Announced: Bongzilla, Evoken, Ruby the Hatchet, Orodruin & More Confirmed

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 1st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

descendants of crom iv logo

The annual Descendants of Crom in Pittsburgh has become a reliable assemblage of heavy, with a lineup diverse in sound woven together by a consistent quality of taste that unites across styles. For evidence of the ongoing nature of this phenomenon, look no further than the first two names on the poster of Descendants of Crom IV — Bongzilla and Ruby the Hatchet. The former, a recongealed stoner-sludge exercise in Midwestern working-class bomber crust, and the latter, a more urbane newschool-via-oldschool heavy rock outfit laced with keys and nigh-on-glam melodicism.

Those differences are stark, but I’ll be damned if both don’t fit well at the top of the bill here, which includes plenty of shouldn’t-be-missed names in the likes of OrodruinValley of the Sun, Heavy TempleRebreatherPale DivineHorehoundCavern, on and on. I guess I could probably just run down the whole list at that point. It’s a good fest, and more even than last year, you begin to see the sense of curation and the personality of the festival emerge in its blend of styles. It’s not just about more, more, more, in an overwhelming onslaught of bands, but about what each specifically brings to the lineup as a whole. Kudos, as ever, to Shy Kennedy and her crew on a job on its way to being well done.

Here’s the announcement:

descendants of crom iv poster

DESCENDANTS OF CROM IV – A GATHERING OF THE HEAVY UNDERGROUND

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 2nd & SATURDAY, OCTOBER 3rd

CATTIVO NIGHTCLUB – ­­­PITTSBURGH, PA, USA

The fourth annual Descendants of Crom will be held this year again in Pittsburgh on both floors of Cattivo Nightclub. The events begin early Friday evening and are followed by a Saturday all-dayer.

The underground scene of heavy rock and metal here is healthy and thriving and we’re feeding great regional bands to a hungry crowd and utilizing legendary, international fan-favorites to entice music fans in the door with the support of our amazing local artists. Descendants of Crom was planted in 2017 as a little black seed and has been growing and strong contender among other established annual music festivals. We aspire to become the premier music event of the Northeast and invite you to become part of the 2020 event. After all, we are all Descendants of Crom!

This year’s DESCENDANTS are:

Bongzilla, Ruby the Hatchet, Black Tusk, Valley of the Sun, Evoken, Orodruin, Rebreather, Horseburner, Heavy Temple, Horehound, Cavern, Pale Divine, Howling Giant, Ironflame, Cruces, God Root, Zom, The Long Hunt, Makeshift Urn, and We, the Creature.

Schedule and tickets will be on sale Friday, March 6th for single-day as well as two-day passes.

We’re looking for sponsors, vendors, and any entity that supports the heavy underground and all things psych, stoner, doom, sludge, and occult to reach out and be a part of our event and community.

Additionally, in anticipation for this year’s Descendants of Crom, there will be a DOC showcase held at Cattivo on Saturday, March 21st featuring bands that have all been part of the Descendants of Crom history. Urns, The Long Hunt, Horehound, Horesburner (WV), and Ironflame. This showcase is a taster of what sort of musicianship and energy that DOC brings to the stages.

Rritual event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/509381869977026/

https://www.facebook.com/DescendantsOfCrom/
www.instagram.com/descendantsofcrom/
https://www.facebook.com/events/437759083832580/
www.descendantsofcrom.com/Tickets.php
http://descendantsofcrom.com

Ruby the Hatchet, Live in Atlanta, GA, Dec. 5, 2019

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Pale Divine Sign to Cruz Del Sur Music; Consequence of Time Due in May

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I don’t mind telling you this is the one I’ve been waiting for. No doubt Cruz Del Sur have been on a trad doom and metal tear, from Ogre and Orodruin to Death the Leveller and Tower, but I’ve heard rumblings of Pale Divine joining those ranks for a few months now, and it’s well earned on the part of the Pennsylvania, etc., four-piece. The band will mark a quarter-century of existence in 2020 with the release of their new album, Consequence of Time in May, and as they follow-up 2018’s stellar self-titled (review here), they’ll also have their first offering not only through the new label home — where they’re all the more kin to Apostle of Solitude, Argus, etc. — but their first as a four-piece, having shortly welcomed guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt (now ex-Beelzefuzz) to the lineup after the release of the last record.

Mark this one a win. A genuine feel-good story for the month, and a genuine feel-doomed album to look forward to.

The PR wire makes it official:

pale divine

Cruz Del Sur Music is proud to announce the signing of Pennsylvania doom mainstays PALE DIVINE.

Founded in 1995, Pale Divine has made a name for itself with its time-honored and distinctive take on classic doom metal. Albums such as 2004’s “Eternity Revealed” and 2007’s “Cemetery Earth” cemented the band’s reputation as one of the best pure torchbearers of BLACK SABBATH and SAINT VITUS-styled doom.

PALE DIVINE — who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Greg Diener, guitarist Dana Ortt, bassist Ron Fezzy McGinnis and drummer Darin McCloskey — is currently hunkered down in the studio with producer Richard Whittaker recording their sixth studio album, “Consequence Of Time”, which will see the light of day in May 2020. The album’s artwork will be handled by Brian Tutlo, the man responsible for the eye-catching “Thunder Perfect Mind” and “Eternity Revealed” covers.

“It’s definitely a natural progression but maybe not in the way people might expect, which is one of the reasons we’re excited,” says McCloskey. “We have a new lineup now which includes Dana, whom Greg and I played with in BEELZEFUZZ. Dana has brought a new element to the band that blends perfectly with PALE DIVINE that has helped us take things to the next level.”

PALE DIVINE came to join Cruz Del Sur Music through a familiar face: WHILE HEAVEN WEPT leader Tom Phillips. The band originally crossed paths with Cruz Del Sur label head Enrico at the 2018 Hammer Of Doom festival in Germany, but it was Phillips who initiated the proper discussions. After that, according to McCloskey, it was a no-brainer to sign with Cruz Del Sur.

“We had heard great things about Cruz Del Sur from our friends in Argus and Apostle of Solitude so we were already familiar and very interested. We discussed things with Enrico and he offered us a great deal. Moving forward, we’re really excited to be part of the Cruz Del Sur Music roster. It feels like we’re part of a family now. This is where we belong.”

PALE DIVINE will be celebrating its 25th year as a band in 2020. McCloskey says the highlights have been numerous, starting with the bands they’ve played with and the people they’ve met over the years, as well as their first trip to Germany in 2005 playing alongside PLACE OF SKULLS and RISING DUST. “In many ways, it always sort of feels like we’re just starting out,” he says. “Every new experience, every new song and new album pretty much reinforces that. We still have a lot of music in us and a lot more to accomplish. It hardly seems like it’s been 25 years, in all honestly. Going overseas for the first time and playing for people who were fans of our music was pretty mind-blowing for us at the time…still is, really. Even our recent trip to Würzburg last year for Hammer Of Doom was an awesome experience as well. Certainly, the chemistry we have in our current lineup has been a big highlight and, of course, signing with Cruz Del Sur!”

Pale Divine is:
Greg Diener – vocals & guitar
Dana Ortt – guitar
Ron “Fezzy” McGinnis – bass & vocals
Darin McCloskey – drums

https://www.facebook.com/serpentspath/
http://www.paledivineband.com/
cruzdelsurmusic.com
facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic
cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com

Pale Divine, Pale Divine (2018)

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Night One, 06.21.19

Posted in Reviews on June 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 night one

I shudder to think of the poor bastard who, when this weekend is over, will have to mop up all the melted eardrums from the floor of the Cafe 611. With the expansion this year to four days — because again, the pre-fest yesterday was essentially a full night of the festival; 2020 pre-party on Wednesday? — Maryland Doom Fest enters a whole new echelon of being physically overwhelming. By the time Mothership went on last night, I was feeling it. Hard. Mostly in my back. And granted, they ran late and had some technical trouble getting set up, but I have the feeling that even had they been on time, I still would’ve been dragging my keester like the anchor it is.

But if that’s the case, it’s only true because the day was so goddamn good. Apart from not being allowed into Guido’s to see Benthic Realm because I didn’t have ID — my driver’s license got lost, I have no idea where or when or how, just looked in my wallet a couple weeks back and it was gone and the new one hasn’t arrived yet — and I guess the male pattern baldness, gray hair, wrinkles under my eyes and stiff, loping movements weren’t enough to confirm my age. “Sorry sir, you’re right. I’m actually three 16-year-olds in disguise as one old dude.” I respect the diligence, and the dude was just doing his job, so after a “seriously?” that was 100 percent genuinely asking if he was being serious, I wasn’t gonna make a stink, but that was a surprise.

It was a bummer though. Krista from the band I think had on an Obelisk t-shirt yesterday, and Dan‘s a really good guy all the time and being as I won’t be in Massachusetts anymore, let alone Worcester where they’re from, it would’ve been cool to see them. Nobody’s evening is made or broken by my showing up, but I wish I had caught their set. That’s all. It’s been a while since I got carded. Doubly so because I don’t drink.

That was the only snafu though, and otherwise, it was a have-my-cake-while-eating-my-cake-and-your-cake-golly-cake-is-good kind of evening as MDDF19 launched in earnest. It was a 6PM start, but the bill was stacked, so let me not waste time with tales of my own foibles.

Maryland Doom Fest 2019 night one:

False Gods

False Gods (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Oh they were mad. An angry start to the day to be sure. I give New York-based ultra-aggro five-piece crushers False Gods credit for coming up with the most excellent tagline, “If it’s too slow, you’re too young,” which is great, but for the most part, they actually moved at a pretty solid clip, taking aspects of post-hardcore and post-metallic intensity and putting them through a ringer of sludge riffs and tones, growls and screams cutting through. They’ve got a new two-song EP out called The Serpent and the Ladder, featuring, yes, “The Serpent” and “The Ladder,” and as frontman Mike Stack paced back and forth at the front of the Cafe 611 stage, his screams sometimes backed by growls from drummer Paulie Stack (let’s assume they’re related), the bass of Johnny Geirak offered density to underpin the more atmospheric elements of Greg March and Nick Luisi‘s guitars. A mid-set spaceout was welcome, but otherwise the chestbeating felt sincere and the impact of their sound was like a shock to the system. There would be no easing into the day, clearly. Welcome back to Maryland Doom Fest 2019. Now be pummeled.

The Druids

The Druids (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There’s another Druids, who are from Iowa and signed to The Company and who put an album out this year and made a bit of a splash with it. That’s not this The Druids, who are from here in Maryland and not signed to The Company but did put a record out in February called Totem (review here) that’s fully diggable in its blend of space and heavy rocks, a blend put to semi-psychedelic use in a we’re-actually-stoned stoner mindset. I had been looking forward to seeing them — not the least because Gary Isom (Spirit Caravan, last night with Weed is Weed, etc.) plays drums — and felt justified in that. Isom‘s pedigree notwithstanding, they’re young. And they sounded like it, guitarist/vocalists Eli Watson and Danny Alger and bassist Jeremy Dinges bringing a fresh energy to the material that, while not stylistically revolutionary, still benefited it greatly. Dave Davidson, who has worked the sound for every Maryland Doom Fest that I’ve been to, kept reminding them between songs how much time they had left, as though if he didn’t, they might get high and wander into a jam, never to return. Not great for keeping to a schedule, but I wouldn’t mind hearing that, either.

Kingsnake

Kingsnake (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Pro-shop, and I’m not honestly sure how much else needs to be said. Philadelphia’s Kingsnake kicked off a Pennsylvania threepeat on the Cafe 611 stage, and they did so with hard-edged, Southern-tinged heavy that seemed to roll out the funk of Clutch into a more forward drive. Hooks? They got hooks. Riffs? They got those too. And they deliver. I’ll always remember them for their roots in Sugar Daddie, but that was like 14 years ago now, so it’s safe to say in that time Kingsnake have come into their own, and what they bring is down-home heavy vibes, for the distinguished working gentleperson who, whether they’re sipping IPA or living the High Life, knows exactly what they want out of the experience. They marked the beginning of schedule collision between Cafe 611 and Guido’s Speakeasy, the second venue about 150 feet right on the next block (easy walk, nice to get a bit of non-doomfart air), but I caught both the beginning and the end of their set, and they killed it to a high standard. Their got-it-togetherness was well on display, and reportedly they’ve had new songs in the works for a while to follow 2016’s Resonance, so hopefully something comes out soon.

Spiral Grave

Spiral Grave (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve been tracking the emergence of Spiral Grave since the band announced their existence in the earliest moments of this year, and my first opportunity to see them live wasn’t one I was about to pass up. I walked right into Guido’s no problem this time — also part of what made it such a surprise later — as Spiral Grave were still setting up, but by the time they went on, that room would be completely packed. Not that that’s saying much — the space is intimate, to put it mildly — but still. They opened with their first single, “Nothing” (premiered here) and proceeded to give the assembled a preview of things to come as they move toward their in-progress debut album. The amalgam of Iron Man and Lord — quintessential Maryland doom meets oft-experimentalist Virginian noise chaos — works. Guitarist Willy Rivera (the Lord contingent) has beefed up his riffing style to suit the grooves of bassist Louis Strachan and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann, and the underlying metallic sharpness in his work suits the vocals of Dee Calhoun well. They’ve been in my “look forward to more” category for a while. Only more the case after seeing them play. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were back here next year after the album release. Nor would I complain.

Backwoods Payback

Backwoods Payback (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Sometimes life is pretty sweet, like when Backwoods Payback plays. The West Chester, PA/Richmond, VA trio were here last year heralding the arrival of their Summer 2018 LP, Future Slum (review here), and it was only more of a pleasure to see them this time around because, you know, the more the merrier. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson have a reputation that precedes them here, and I don’t know if it was people who saw them at the last Maryland Doom Fest or who heard the record or what, but they packed the room out and had people singing along. Or maybe that was just me. Either way, they made highlights out of Future Slum cuts like “Pirate Smile” and “Whatever,” “Generals” and “Lines,” which closed out with its tense build, as well as what I’d swear was some even-newer stuff but was too ass-kicked afterwards to ask. If you’ve never seen them, their style is as much grown-up punk as it is ’90s-weird-kid, but it’s delivered with heft and heart that are second to no one, and they’re the kind of band who win people over. They didn’t have to do that at Cafe 611 — the room was on their side to start with — but the converted were plenty happy to hear them preach. There are very few bands I so much enjoy watching play.

The Age of Truth

The Age of Truth (Photo by JJ Koczan)

No easy feat to be sandwiched on a bill between Backwoods Payback and Year of the Cobra with Lo-Pan still to follow, but Philly’s The Age of Truth wrapped up the Keystone triad with an unequivocal mastery of West Coast-style heavy rock meeting Northeastern noise crunch and aggression. Also repeat offenders from last year (review here), they remain entrenched in their righteous 2017 debut, Threshold (review here), starting with the immediate lock-in nodder “Come Back a God” — which still reminds me of Dozer, in the best way — as frontman Kevin McNamara pointed up to the sky, or at least the ceiling, and guitarist Mike DiDonato, bassist Bill Miller and drummer Scott Fressetto behind him were in go-mode from the start. For a band who haven’t spent months on the road — they’ve done plenty of shows, but not really full-on toured, and I don’t know if they want to or not — they rose to the occasion in such a way as to make me wonder how that might tie into their next record, if the tightness of their live presentation will be mirrored in their songwriting or captured output. Whatever they might have planned in that regard, they sounded ready to move forward, and in what, again, was a difficult spot, they shone, indulging a bit of drank in the process.

Year of the Cobra

Year of the Cobra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Looking at their setlist after they played, I felt way better about how few of Year of the Cobra‘s songs I recognized while they were on stage. The Seattle two-piece will release their second album later this year as their debut through Prophecy Productions — I’m not saying I’m holding a spot on my best-of-the-year list for it, but basically I am — and though they’ve toured hard to support 2016’s …In the Shadows Below (review here) and the subsequent 2017 EP, Burn Your Dead (review here), including just recently with Lord Dying, I’m embarrassed to say I’d never seen them before. That fact has been gnawing at me, so I was relieved when they went on, and all the more so when they absolutely leveled Cafe 611. They played “Cold” from the EP and “White Wizard” from the first record as well as the title-track of their first short release, 2015’s The Black Sun (review here), but everything else seemed to be new, titles like “Ash and Dust,” “The Divine” and “Into the Fray” scribbled out to represent a barrage of low-end tone, wash of crash and increasingly nuanced vocal melodicism from Amy Tung Barrysmith. With Jon Barrysmith on drums, they were a nation-of-two duo whose time on the road was obvious in their we-do-this-all-the-time vibe, and my only regret of the evening was not buying a shirt. That’s something I’ll rectify next time, and yes, there will be a next time.

Lo-Pan

Lo-Pan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Come on, Lo-Pan. You know that scene in that one episode of The Simpsons from the ’90s where Homer joins not-Lollapalooza and Sonic Youth are there and they steal Peter Frampton’s watermelon? That’s like Lo-Pan stealing all the awesome and keeping it for themselves. As they absolutely tore exclusively into cuts from their new record, Subtle (review here), it was as though they were standing next to an empty cooler going, “Come on, Mr. Frampton! You’re not gonna eat all that watermelon!” It was my first time seeing them since they added guitarist Chris Thompson, which was a couple years ago now — look, I can’t make excuses; sometimes it’s hard being a human being, let alone leaving the house — and with their lightbars on the sides of his and bassist Scott Thompson‘s cabs, singer Jeff Martin in back giving a clinic in vocal dynamics and drummer Jesse Bartz bashing away up front, they did what Lo-Pan do: they destroyed. I don’t think I’ve seen them at any point in the last decade and not come out of it unable to name a more powerful American heavy rock band. I’ll catch them again in a couple months as they tour with C.O.C. and Crowbar — they’re doing a one-off in Teaneck, NJ; fuck yes — and I’m already looking forward to that. This is a band to treasure.

Pale Divine

Pale Divine (Photo by JJ Koczan)

So here’s the thing: Pale Divine just put out a record. Not this week, but last November they released their self-titled LP (review here), and as it was their first outing in six years, it’s totally unreasonable to think they might do another one anytime soon. Pale Divine doesn’t owe anyone anything. You know how the pre-fest was all the Stoner Hands of Doom bands? Well, okay. Pale Divine played that fest seven times, including the first one 20 years ago. But on the other hand… since the album came out, guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener, bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis and drummer Darin McCloskey added Dana Ortt — who’ll also play his last show with Beelzefuzz this weekend — on guitar and vocals, and they’re just at another level for having done so. You could hear the harmonies between Diener and Ortt on vocals throughout their set, and the interplay on guitar was no less glorious. So yeah, Pale Divine, you don’t have to put out another record right this moment. Don’t feel obligated. But if you wanted to make that happen sometime in the less-than-six-years-from-now near future, I think it would really be for the best all the way around. The wax is barely dry on Pale Divine, so it’s not even fair to ask, but I’m asking anyway. Or at least a live record as a stopgap. I’d take a 7″. A demo tape. Something. Anything.

Mothership

Mothership (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You know why I like Mothership? They play both kinds of music: rock and roll. How are you gonna be dead on your feet when Mothership are playing? The Dallas power trio manifest the best of Texas’ heavy legacy and offer it up in kinetic fashion. Already this year they’ve toured with Death Angel, done a spot on the Heavy Psych Sounds Fest out on the West Coast, and been on the road with C.O.C. (review here), and that’s after doing Europe last Fall on a by-now-legendary stint with Elephant Tree and Stoned Jesus, so yeah, Mothership are basically on fire and after a late start owing to some non-intentional feedback and other technical whathaveyou, they played like it. They’ve basically been go-go-go since before the arrival of their 2017 third full-length, High Strangeness (review here), and their “Midnight Express” shows no signs of slowing. They’ve made themselves ambassadors for ’70s heavy without ever really dipping into retroism, and more than just ape what classic bands did before them, they take those lessons and push them forward onto new ground. I honestly don’t know when they would’ve had time to write a new LP or anything like that, but they seem to have a keen sense of how to keep their momentum going — spoiler: it’s by busting their collective ass — so I have to think they’ll get there sooner or later, if they can manage to stop long enough to hit record. Hard to imagine the tour offers stopping, frankly. I’ll admit I didn’t stay for the whole set, but even with the hiccup at the outset, there was no question they owned that room.

I guess it was like 2AM when I got back to the AirBNB? Something like that. I crashed quickly, even before pictures were done being transferred from my memory card, and slept until eight this morning. Saw nine bands on Thursday, 10 bands on Friday. Today’s Saturday and there are 11 at the Cafe 611 alone — more if I can manage to con my way back into the good graces of Guido’s — and that’s the busiest day of the thing. I am beat but upright, and very much in need of a shower. At least I got a toothbrush yesterday. Today’s need is Advil.

Good times, y’all. Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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