Quarterly Review: Papir, Kosmodemonic, Steve Von Till, Sex Blender, Déhà, Thunder Horse, Rebreather, Melmak, Astral Magic, Crypt Monarch

Posted in Reviews on July 6th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

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Day two already, huh? It’s a holiday week here in the States, which means people are on vacation or have at least enjoyed a long weekend hopefully without blowing any body parts off with fireworks or whatnot. For me, I prefer the day on rather than the day off, so we proceeded as normal yesterday in beginning the Quarterly Review. “We now return to our regularly scheduled,” and so on.

There’s a lot of good stuff here, as one would hope, and since we’re still basically at the start of this doublewide edition of the Quarterly Review — 10 down, 90 to go — I won’t delay further. Thanks for reading.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Papir, Jams

papir jams

Two sessions, three days apart, three pieces from each, resulting in six tracks running just about 80 minutes that Papir are only within their rights to have titled simply as Jams. With this outing, the Copenhagen-based psychedelic trio present their process at its most nakedly exploratory. I don’t know if they had any parts pre-planned when they went into the studio, but the record brims with spontaneity, drums jazzing out behind shimmering guitar and steadily grooving basslines. Effects are prevalent and add to the spaciousness, and the sessions from whence these songs came, whether it’s the key-led four-minute “20.01.2020 #2” or the 20-minute opener “17.01.2020 #1” — all tracks sharing the same date-and-number format as regards titles — feel vibrant and fluid in a way that goes beyond even the hazy hypnotics of “20.01.2020 #3.” Papir‘s instrumental dynamic is of course a huge part of what they do anyway, but to hear their chemistry come through in freer fashion as it does here can only be refreshing. I hope they do more like this.

Papir on Facebook

Stickman Records website

 

Kosmodemonic, Liminal Light

Kosmodemonic Liminal Light

Brooklyn outfit Kosmodemonic exist almost exclusively within genre border regions. Their second album, Liminal Light, fosters an approach that’s too considered not to be called progressive, but that owes as much to the cosmic doom of YOB as to black metal as to noise rock as to Voivod as to any number of other various ores in the metallic sphere. In their sprinting moments or in the consuming dark grandeur of centerpiece “Ipomoea,” they are pointedly individual, and cuts like “Drown in Drone” and the later slammer “Brown Crown” owe much to sheer impact as to the cerebral underpinnings of their angularity. Liminal Light is vicious but methodical, and feels executed with a firm desire to catch the audience sleeping and then blindside them with a change, be it in moving from one song to another or within one song itself, like when the penultimate “Chains of Goddess Grove” rears back from its lurching movement and spews thrashier fire in its final minute. Put these moments together and you get a record that challenges on multiple levels and is unflinchingly worth the effort of close engagement.

Kosmodemonic on Facebook

Transylvanian Tapes on Bandcamp

 

Steve Von Till, A Deep Voiceless Wilderness

Steve Von Till A Deep Voiceless Wilderness

The sixth solo offering from Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till is a first for being completely instrumental. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — goes that Von Till wrote the music for 2020’s No Wilderness Deep Enough (review here) late during jetlagged nights alone on his wife’s family’s property in Germany, where her family has lived for 500 years, only to later be convinced by producer Randall Dunn to write lyrics and record vocals for the songs. A Deep Voiceless Wilderness, as the title hints, pulls those vocals back out of these re-named pieces, allowing elements like the quiet textures of keyboard and piano, horns and mellotrons to shine through in atmospheric fashion, layers of drone intertwining in mostly peaceful fashion. It is the least guitar-based record Von Till has ever done, and allows for a new kind of minimalism to surface along with an immersive melodic hum. Subdued, meditative, exploratory, kind of wonderful.

Steve Von Till website

Neurot Recordings store

 

Sex Blender, Studio Session I

Sex Blender Studio Session I

Based in Lviv, Ukraine, instrumentalist krautrock bizarros Sex Blender have two full-lengths behind them, and Studio Session I takes the consumingly fuzzed “Diver” from 2018’s Hormonizer and three cuts from 2020’s The Second Coming and turns them into a stirring 44-minute set captured on video for a livestream. Reportedly some of the arrangements are different, as will certainly happen, but as someone being introduced to the band through this material, it’s easy to be struck by the palpable sense of glee with which Sex Blender present their songs. “Crimson Master” is the shortest of the bunch at just over six minutes — it’s the only one under 11 — but even there, the manipulated keyboard sounds, drum fluidity and undercurrent of rumbling distortion push Sex Blender into a place that’s neither doom nor prog but draws from both, crawling where the subsequent “Rave Spritz” can’t help but bounce with its motorik drums and intertwined synth lines. May just be a live session, but they shine all the same.

Sex Blender on Facebook

Drone Rock Records website

 

Déhà, Cruel Words

Déhà Cruel Words

Déhà‘s third long-player Cruel Words was originally issued in 2019 and is seeing a first vinyl pressing on Burning World Records. The Brussels solo outfit has released no fewer than 17 other full-length outings — possibly more, depending on what counts as what — in the two years since these songs initially surfaced, but, well, one has to start someplace. The 2LP runs 75 minutes and includes bonus tracks — an acoustic version of opener “I Am Mine to Break,” a cover of The Gathering‘s “Saturnine” and the piano-into-post-metal “Comfort Me II” — but the highlights are on the album itself, such as the make-Amenra-blush 12-minute crux of “Dead Butterflies,” wherein a lung-crushing weight is given patient drama through its prominent keyboard layers, or the goth early going of “Pain is a Wasteland,” which seems to brood until it finally can’t take it anymore and bashes its head (and yours) into the wall. Surprisingly methodical for the manic pace at which Déhà (né Olmo Lipani) works, it makes artistry of its arrangement as well as performance and is willfully overwhelming, but engaging in that.

Déhà on Facebook

Burning World Records website

 

Thunder Horse, Chosen One

Thunder Horse Chosen One

Big riffs, big grooves, big hooks, Thunder Horse‘s second long-player, Chosen One, sees the San Antonio, Texas, outfit inherit some aspects from the members’ past outfits, whether it’s the semi-industrial vocal style of Stephen Bishop on “Among the Dead” or the classically shredding solo work of Todd Connally. With Dave Crow on bass and Jason “Shakes” West on drums, Thunder Horse elbow their way into a nod quickly on Chosen One and hold their ground decisively, with Dehumanizer-esque tones and flourish of keys throughout that closes in lead position on the outro “Remembrance” in complement to the strumming, whistling “Texas” a short while earlier. Even when they shuffle, as on the second half of “Song for the Ferryman,” Thunder Horse do it heavy, and as they did with their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), they make it hard to argue, either with the atmosphere or the sheer lumber of their output. An easy record to dig for the converted.

Thunder Horse on Facebook

Ripple Music website

 

Rebreather, Pets / Orange Crush

Rebreather Pets Orange Crush

Heads up children of — or children of children of — the 1990s, as Youngstown, Ohio’s Rebreather effectively reinterpret and heavy up two of that decade’s catchiest hooks in Porno for Pyros‘ “Pets” and R.E.M.‘s “Orange Crush.” Taking songs that, if they ever left your head from rock radio, will certainly be right back in there now, and trying to put their own spin on them is ambitious, but Rebreather have no trouble slowing down the already kinda languid “Pets” or emphasizing the repetitive urgency of “Orange Crush,” and the tonal weight they bring to both honors the original versions as well as who Rebreather are as a band, while showcasing the band’s heretofore undervalued melodies, with call and response vocal lines in both cuts nodding to their sludge/noise rock roots while moving forward from there. They chose the songs well, if nothing else, and though it’s only about 10 minutes between the two cuts, as the first new Rebeather material since their 2018 self-titled EP (discussed here), I’ll take the two covers happily.

Rebreather on Facebook

Aqualamb Records website

 

Melmak, Down the Underground

Melmak Down the Underground

Spanish duo Melmak — guitarist/vocalist Jonan Etxebarria and drummer/vocalist Igor Etxebarria — offer an awaited follow-up to their 2016 long-player Prehistorical (review here) and demonstrate immediately that five years has not dulled their aggressive tendencies. Opener “Black Room” is a minute-long grindfest, and though “Scum” finds its way into a sludgy groove, it’s not far behind. “Poser” starts out as a piano ballad but turns to its own crushing roll, while “The Scene” rumbles out its lurch, “You Really Don’t Care” samples a crying baby over a sad piano line and “Ass Kisser” offers knee-to-the-face bruiser riffing topped with echoing gutturalism that carries the intensity into the seven-minute, more spacious “Jaundiced,” which gives itself over to extremity in its second half as well, and the closing noise wash of “The Crew.” What we learn from all this is it would seem Melmak find the heavy underground wanting in violent terms. They answer that call in bludgeoning fashion.

Melmak on Facebook

Melmak on Bandcamp

 

Astral Magic, Visions of Infinity

Astral Magic Visions of Infinity

Ostensibly a solo-project from Dark Sun bassist Santtu Laakso, Astral Magic‘s debut LP, Visions of Infinity, features contributions from guitarist Martin Weaver (Wicked Lady, Doctors of Space) and Scott “Dr. Space” Heller (Doctors of Space, Øresund Space Collective), as well as Samuli Sailo on ukulele, and has been mixed and mastered and released by Heller, so perhaps the plot thickens as regards just how much of band it is. Nonetheless, Astral Magic have all the cosmos to work with, so there’s plenty of room for everybody, as Visions of Infinity harnesses classic Hawkwindian space rock and is unafraid to add droning mysticism to the ever-outward procession on “Ancient Mysteries” or “Onboard the Spaceship,” to grow playful on “I Was Abducted” or bask in cosmic serenity on “Winds of Time” and “Wizards.” Off we go, into the greater reaches of “out there.” It’s a fun ride.

Astral Magic on Facebook

Space Rock Productions website

 

Crypt Monarch, The Necronaut

Crypt Monarch The Necronaut

Costa Rican trio Crypt Monarch offer their debut full-length in the form of the three-song/36-minute The Necronaut, the sound of which makes the claim on the part of the band — bassist/vocalist Christopher De Haan, guitarist Jose Rodriguez, drummer/vocalist J.C. Zuñiga — that it was made live in a cabin in the woods easy enough to believe. Though mixed and mastered, the 15-minute opener “Morning Star Through Skull” (15:41) and ensuing rollers “Rex Meridionalis” (10:12) and “Aglaphotis” (10:08) maintain a vigilant rawness, laced with noise even as De Haan and Zuñiga come together vocally on the latter, clean singing and gurgles alike. It is stoner metal taken to a logical and not entirely unfamiliar extreme, but the murk in which Crypt Monarch revel is dense and easy to get lost within. This, more than any single riff or lumbering groove, speaks to the success of the band’s intention in crafting the record. There is no clearly marked exit.

Crypt Monarch on Facebook

Electric Valley Records website

 

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal Playlist: Episode 58

Posted in Radio on April 30th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

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I’m trying to break my own rules a little bit. Every now and again, it’s a decent exercise to try to change things up. I kind of did the same last ep, by starting out with a bunch of classic doom. There’s still a lot of new music here — the Snail is out today, and that and The Black Heart Death Cult and Howling Giant are all new too, as well as the Conclave, PapirWitchrot and, relatively speaking, Dopelord. So yeah, plenty of new stuff there.

But there were a couple other things I wanted to talk about — PostWax is one, Maryland Doom Fest is another. So you get Dopelord for that, as they were recently announced for PostWax, and SubRosa, whose offshoot The Otolith will also feature in the vinyl subscription service. And in addition to Howling Giant, there’s the block that starts with Conclave you can see in the playlist — YatraMolasses BargeHorseburner and Sasquatch — all of whom have been confirmed for MDDF this Halloween weekend. Sadly not Papir, though that would also rule.

And between those, I guess I just had Goatsnake and Truckfighters on my mind and decided to throw them in. Who’s gonna argue? I suppose I’ll find out in the Gimme chat later on.

Thanks for listening and/or reading. As always, I hope you enjoy.

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

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 04.30.21

Snail Draining White Fractal Altar
The Black Heart Death Cult Goodbye Gatwick Blues Sonic Mantras
Howling Giant Understudy Alteration
VT
Dopelord Dark Coils Reality Dagger
Goatsnake What Love Remains 1
Truckfighters Con of Man Mania
Witchrot Million Shattered Swords Hollow
SubRosa Despair is a Siren For This We Fought the Battle of Ages
VT
Conclave Haggard Dawn of Days
Yatra Blood Will Flow Blood of the Night
Molasses Barge Holding Patterns A Grayer Dawn
Horseburner The Oak The Thief
Sasquatch Just Couldn’t Stand the Weather Maneuvers
VT
Papir 01.20.2020 #3 Jams

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is May 14 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Metal website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Papir to Release Jams 2LP April 9

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 1st, 2021 by JJ Koczan

If the thought of Copenhagen’s Papir releasing a double-vinyl collection of jams called simply Jams doesn’t immediately pique your interest, well, I’m sorry. Sincerely. Because it should. I double-dog-dare you to take on the 20 minute creative sprawl that they’ve titled “17.01.2020 #1” and see if your mind isn’t changed for the better.

The Danish outfit were last heard from with 2019’s VI (review here), and though Stickman Records doesn’t list an exact release date in their newsletter — for which you might consider signing up — the band’s Bandcamp page has it as an April 9 release. Whether that means vinyl will be after the digital, I don’t know. I don’t know anything. All I know is I dig Papir jamming and this is two 12″ platters’ worth of Papir jamming. Sometimes the universe does you favors.

The band’s own Nicklas Sørensen provided the update via the label:

papir jams

New Papir album “Jams” to be released in spring 2021

Stream a song from the record at Bandcamp now!

2LP coming this spring

“Jamming has always been an essential part of Papir. Jamming in the rehearsal room, jamming in the studio, collectively jamming live and getting in to a common zone of rocking outbursts, ambient soundscapes, repetitive trances or whatever comes through. Sometimes it can just feel like a hard work of even trying to get into the zone. But mostly it’s just good times and fun, and I guess that’s why we do it. It’s all about musical energy!

So why haven’t we released a pure jam record before you might ask? Well, that’s a great question and all we can say is that we don’t really know, but this time we went all in on the jams. This record is a product of the jams we did during our recording sessions in The Black Tornado Studio last year. So is this the raw uncensored version of Papir? No, not really. There are always choices to make, so we picked out the best jams for you. Hope you will enjoy it!”

– Nicklas Sørensen

Papir is:
Nicklas Sørensen
Christoffer Brøchmann Christensen
Christian Becher Clausen

https://www.facebook.com/papirband
https://papir.bandcamp.com/
https://www.stickman-records.com/
https://www.facebook.com/Stickman-Records-1522369868033940

Papir, Jams (2021)

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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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Live Review: HØSTSABBAT 2019 Night Two in Oslo, Norway, 10.05.19

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat 2019 poster square

Before the Show

Festival mode. One day bleeds into the next, sometimes into the one after. You lose time to the timetable. Basic needs become a big deal. Water. Coffee. Advil. Comfy socks. Earplugs in the top pocket of your jeans so you can be quick on the draw in a sudden burst of volume. All this shit really starts to matter.

Which I guess is my way of saying I’m tense about the day soon to unfold, as well as exhausted from last night. I expect these two energies to cancel each other out and leave a remainder of self-loathing-fueled social awkwardness, which is the standard I generally set for myself.

There was an art talk in the crypt a bit ago, followed upstairs by a live-painting session by Linda K. Røed and Trine Grimm, set to a drone session by Highrule. Not something you see every day, so I wanted to be sure to see it.

And they were painting, and droning, respectively, and I decided that while they were creating, I’d go up the balcony and do a bit of writing, so that’s where I am. Here’s the view:

Live painting at Høstsabbat

It is a significant view, but it’s worth reemphasizing that this fest is about more than just the place. Last year it found its home in the Kulturkirken Jakob, and with that task behind it, it’s begun to explore further its own personality and the varying shapes it can take. The lineup for today, already under way, sort of, speaks to that, as does the growing visual side. I’d only expect the progression to continue.

First band on in half an hour downstairs. Easily time for another coffee beforehand.

After the Show

Definitely not the same sort of brain-surge as was the ending of last night, with Ufomammut reconfirming their galaxial supremacy, but more like a spiritual cleansing, like if you could actually catch your breath in one breath. That would be Colour Haze closing out Kulturkirken Jakob for the second and final night of Høstsabbat 2019.

By then, I and everyone else in attendance had been through a ringer of ups, downs and side-to-sides of style, eight bands between the two Kulturkirken stages, five more across the street at Verkstedet, and I know I didn’t see two bands play the same kind of sound today. Even the sludge bands were different enough to be called different. It was a little staggering.

But, if there’s ever a time for a blowout, it’s the last day of the fest, and Høstsabbat made the most of the opportunity confronting it. I’m sad to say that as I’ll be traveling tomorrow morning, the inevitabilities of returning to real life — much as I have one — were burrowing into my head by about the time the third band went on, but I knuckled down and let myself enjoy being here while I’m here. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to be here?

Good. Because that’s really the lesson of the weekend. Stupid lucky.

I seem to recall the day going something like this:

Dunbarrow

Dunbarrow (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Rest assured, it was just last year that Norwegian classic doomers Dunbarrow released their second album, II (review here) on RidingEasy. It only sounds like it was 45 years ago. Opening up the crypt stage, Dunbarrow delivered their set with an energy that reminded me of catching Brutus headlining in the same space last year, Dunbarrow‘s style is even more heavy ’70s in its focus. They represented their recorded work well in that way — it wasn’t like they got on stage and came across completely different, like their vintage aesthetic is all studio tricks or something like that. There’s a lot of First Daze Here-era Pentagram at play, as there inevitably would be, and they take cues from the same cues Witchcraft took therefrom, but part of the charm of seeing them was watching them bring that spirit to life, and they absolutely did that. It’s a sound that’s not based on being the loudest or the heaviest all the time, and it can be tricky for bands to pull it off and still convey some sense of vitality. Wasn’t a problem for Dunbarrow.

Hexvessel

Hexvessel (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I know it’s trash-cliche, because experience is subjective and all that happy crap, but Hexvessel have the ability to move a room like few bands I’ve seen. As fate and silly-life would have it, this was my second time seeing them since the release of their back-to-ground forest folk fourth LP, All Tree (review here), behind a set this Spring at Roadburn (review here), and it’s proven true again that they’re absolutely transportive. The vocal harmonies, the rich arrangement elements, and now — thanks in no small part to the aesthetic sprawl of their third album, 2016’s When We are Death (review here) — the diversity of their atmospheres all come together to form a cohesive purpose. It’s a conversation and a going. Does it require some buy-in? For sure. What doesn’t? That’s where the sheer songwriting comes in, because no matter where Hexvessel might take you in a given track, record, set, etc., their method has an ultra-consistent level of craft behind it. Every melody is in its place, every swell and sway have their function toward the larger intent moving you. And so you end up in a different place than you were when they started. Every time.

Papir

Papir (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It’s a pretty good sign your lineup is absolutely bonkers when you’ve got bands like Hexvessel and Papir playing on the relatively early end of the day. I was way stoked, in the parlance of our times, to catch Papir‘s ultra-fluid instrumental jamming. They were one of the band I was most excited to see this weekend, there was zero disappointment once they got going. I was a little surprised at how mellow they weren’t. All things are relative — especially when Belzebong are shortly to hit stage upstairs and Slabdragger are next in the basement — but still, while of course they had their calm moments and the overarching vibe was serene, the Copenhagen trio of guitarist Nicklas Sørensen bassist Christian Becher and drummer Christoffer Brøchmann showed even more character in their material than I had thought was coming. The crypt stage was packed out early for them — I got there 20 minutes before they went on and still had a dude trying to push out of the way for a spot — but frankly, I couldn’t even argue with the impulse. What Papir were doing, loud or quiet at any given moment but universally hypnotic, was nothing if not an invitation.

Belzebong

Belzebong (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Kind of on the other end of a similar instrumentalist heavy spectrum were Belzebong, whose crusty, ultra-gree-heen take on stoner metal and sludge was like taking the notion of “riff-based” to what most would no doubt consider an illogical extreme. Some bands are a lifestyle, and Belzebong were a reminder of that. I don’t know how they’re received in their native Poland, but Høstsabbat certainly bid them welcome to the altar stage, and was more than willing to follow the bouncing skulls as the band headbanged in unison to each successive, massive riff. As with their recorded output — their third full-length, Light the Dankness (review here), came out last year — their live show is bent decidedly in favor of the primitive. It is stoned, and fuck you. I’ll grant that that, in itself, is an atmosphere, and Belzebong were well comfortable within it, but the whole idea was driving riffs into the brains of the willing and the converted because everyone else is probably a cop anyway. They were loud, they were huge-sounding, and they were everything you could possibly ask Belzebong to be on a Saturday night in Oslo. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that also includes being high. If not, it’s doubly impressive.

Orsak:Oslo

Orsak Oslo (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I didn’t get to catch more than a few minutes of their set, because I was en route from one thing to the other, but I wanted to give quick mention to anyone paying attention to Orsak:Oslo, whose dreamy-space-vibe-rock I consider my “find” of the entire festival. Again, I didn’t see a lot of it, but what I saw was excellent and made me wish I could see more. They put out a record earlier this year on Germany’s Kapitaen Platte. If I could’ve figured out how to work VIPPS without a Norwegian ID number, I’d have bought the CD from the merch area. As it was, they were well worth the momentary detour across the street.

Slabdragger

Slabdragger (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Uh, progressive? But like the progressive that might kick you? I did have to look it up, but it’s been three years since London trio Slabdragger — which includes Old Man Lizard guitarist/vocalist Jack Newnham on drums — put out their second record, Rise of the Dawncrusher (review here), and one would think that might be long enough for them to get another release together, but seeing them in the crypt for Høstsabbat, I had no trouble believing it might be longer. They were half a decade between their first and second records, and with the complexity of what they were playing, it makes sense. Extended tracks, some parts rocking, other parts outright punishing, Slabdragger brought together a thoughtful mindset with tectonic intensity in a way that was undeniably their own. You might call them sludge on some level, if only because they’re so heavy — and they are, whatever else is going on at the time — but that barely scratches the surface. Bonus points to guitarist Sam Thredder, who asked to have the lights turned up after the first song so he could see what he was playing. “I swear that’s why that song only had one note,” he told the crowd as he prepared to share vocal duties again with bassist Yusuf Tary for another round of pummeling.

The Devil and the Almighty Blues

The Devil and the Almighty Blues (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Devil and the Almighty Blues, feeding off a hometown crowd’s energy, vocalist Arnt O. Andersen, guitarists Petter Svee and Torgeir Waldemar Engen, bassist Kim Skaug and drummer Kenneth Simonsen came out to the country-blues strains of “O Death” — as they’re wont to do — and proceeded to immediately earn the heroes’ welcome they were given by the crowd by building the ultra-catchy “Salt the Earth” from earlier-2019’s Tre (review here) from the ground up, Anderson, in robe, in utter command of the proceedings in true and classic frontman fashion, even when his arms were crossed and he stood at the back of the stage drinking a beer and nodding in approval. The band on either side of him — and behind, in the case of Simonsen — were both vibrant and tight, clearly playing up to the occasion at Kulturkirken Jakob in front of fans as well as what seemed to be friends and family. Their moody, possibly drunken sense of danger was readily on display, but they shone on a big stage in a way that underscored their touring and fest experience, and while I had to wonder what it would take to get them over to the US for a show, and if the American crowd would get it in the same way, I couldn’t help but think they’re a band my home country is missing out on by not having the chance to see live. They took what was obviously a special show for them and made it one for everyone else too.

LLNN

LLNN (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how heavy heavy actually gets. Fortunately, for those momentary lapses, along comes a band like LLNN to absolutely slam your skull into a wall. I had only barely checked out the Copenhagen outfit’s 2018 full-length, Deads, for a few seconds before deciding they were the something I wanted to experience live, and for two days of heaviness in that basement, there might indeed have been nowhere to go after them. Superlatively heavy, extreme post-metal, with atmospherics to push the air out of your lungs and tone to make sure it stays gone. Brutal, chaotic, whatever else. It was all of that churn and physical force behind the music, as well as being less about a cathartic expression — as was, say, SUMA, who opened the crypt yesterday — than a reveling in disaffection and alienation. So much weight brought to bear, and not all of it coldly or unemotionally. Their performance was no less ferocious than their sound, with the lights low and the strobe going and everything set to convey a sense of being overwhelmed, which was a standard they met easily. Not the kind of thing you’d put on for a dinner party — unless your dinner parties are awesome — but probably the kind of thing that should be played in art galleries as well as church basements. Pelagic released that album, so clearly I have some digging back to do in further investigation. Maybe a bit of recovery first though.

Colour Haze

Colour Haze (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There was some technical difficulty at the outset — one of drummer Manfred Merwald‘s stage monitors didn’t seem to be putting out anything for a while there — but while that delayed their start a couple minutes, once Colour Haze got going for their headlining set at the second night of Høstsabbat, and whatever came before, the feeling of peace was palpable. It radiated from all corners of the stage, even from Merwald, who make no mistake is a madman behind the kit. That’s something that has become all the more visible since he’s turned the drums sideways to allow room for organist/synthesist Jan Faszbender on the stage; Faszbender being the fourth member who’s worked with the band for years on arrangements, recording, etc., but only really started to play shows with them for the last couple years, joining the trio of Merwald, bassist Philipp Rasthofer — he of the classiest bass tone I’ve ever heard — and guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, whose hippie spirit on stage does nothing to undercut the precision and concentration behind his playing. They’ve been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band since the Spring, and have more tour dates lined up this year, but I was lucky enough to see them in this configuration in London in May 2018 (review here), and they’ve only gotten more fluid as a four-piece, adding nuance in between-song transitions and Faszbender‘s contributions to older material. They opened with “She Said” from the 2012 album of the same name (review here) and they jammed and jammed and jammed, with some new material thrown in for good measure. The record is called Life, and it’s slated for CD/DL release in November, so here’s hoping. In the meantime, “Aquamaria” and “Transformation” were glorious, and the warmth that Colour Haze exuded from the stage was such that not even the October night in Oslo could stand up to it. Seriously, I took off my hoodie. They’re not a band I’ll ever pretend to be remotely objective about, but what they do is singularly beautiful. Another 25 years would be just fine, thank you very much. And then some.

The Next Morning

Hi from Oslo International. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know what the hell value Høstsabbat sees in inviting me to this festival, but holy crap it’s appreciated. The hospitality I’ve been shown this year and last year (and two years before that, as well) is sincerely humbling, and while I’m happy to come here and write as long as they’ll have me, I can’t say it makes any sense why they’d want me here.

As such, I’m not going to say anything about “next year.” Because, you know what, maybe Høstsabbat will do what’s well within their rights and tell me to get lost (which I did walking from the train station to the hotel on Thursday, same as last year). I feel like it would be reasonable.

So instead of talking about Høstsabbat 2020, which I’m sure will be excellent whether or not I’m here to see it, I’m going to take 2019 and breathe it in for a minute and appreciate what I’ve just spent the last two days doing for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it was. How many chances am I going to have to see a band like Orsak:Oslo play in a tiny bar? Or Ufomammut and Colour Haze in a cathedral setting? Whatever does or doesn’t happen in the future, I was lucky to be here.

Special thanks to Ole and Jens, as always, and thanks to Stefan Koglek, The Patient Mrs. and most of all to you for reading.

Now, if you need me, I gotta go get on a plane. More pics after the jump.

Read more »

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Desertfest Berlin 2020: First Lineup Announcement: Masters of Reality, Brant Bjork, C.O.C., Orange Goblin & More

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

desertfest berlin 2020 banner

I admit, I’m going to miss seeing the poster art for Desertfest Berlin 2019 around thee social medias, but if there’s one thing that eases that loss, it’s the poster art for Desertfest Berlin 2020. It’s like something out of a cel-shaded JRPG, but, you know, awesome, and an airship is always welcome as far as I’m concerned. Will this be the year I finally get my ass to Berlin? I’d be lying if I said that their having Masters of Reality — who’ll also be in London — on the bill wasn’t a significant draw in my head. I’d wonder if they won’t do New York as well, but they don’t do a lot of shows at all, so I’m not going to bank on that. Of course, having Corrosion of ConformityBrant BjorkOrange GoblinPapirMinami DeutschSÅVER, Earth Tongue and Dhidalah certainly doesn’t hurt the argument either, but it’s just the beginning of Spring fest-announcement season, and so there’s much more to get all giddy-hyperbole about to come in the next few months. Hell, they haven’t even held Desertfest Belgium yet.

Bottom line: expect this airship to circle around many more times before May 1.

From the PR wire:

desertfest berlin 2020 first poster

https://www.facebook.com/events/520164272080736/

MASTERS OF REALITY | CORROSION OF CONFORMITY | BRANT BJORK | ORANGE GOBLIN | MINAMI DEUTSCH | EARTH TONGUE | PAPIR | DHIDALAH | SÂVER confirmed for Desertfest Berlin 2020!!!

Tickets now on sale at: www.desertfest-tickets.de

Finally, we are thrilled to announce the first batch of (outstanding!) acts for our 9th edition, taking place at the ARENA BERLIN May 1st – 3rd 2020. You may not believe your eyes, but it’s a dream come true: Palm Desert scene icons, Masters Of Reality – Official, are finally playing Desertfest! Fronted by Chris Goss, renowned producer of legendary bands such as Kyuss, Queen of the Stone Age and many more, with their Black Sabbath-inspired sound MASTERS OF REALITY will take you on an unforgettable trip through the desert. A true milestone in the eclectic live history of Desertfest Berlin!

It’s been a dozen years since Southern Rock legends, Corrosion Of Conformity, would reunite with Pepper Keenan to blow the doors off the whole damn scene again. In 2014, after nearly a straight decade traversing the globe as a guitarist with New Orleans supergroup DOWN, Keenan reconnected with the core C.O.C. trio of Woody Weatherman, Mike Dean and Reed Mullin to hit the road hard. And the long wait is over, we will give them a warm and heavy rocking welcome in 2020!

The Godfather of Desert Rock, Brant Bjork, will return to the Desertfest Berlin stage and revive your spirit! Brant has spent over a quarter-century at the epicenter of Californian desert rock. From cutting his teeth alongside Fatso Jetson’s Mario Lalli in hardcore punkers De-Con to drumming and composing on Kyuss’ landmark early albums, to propelling the seminal fuzz of Fu Manchu from 1994-2001 while producing other bands, putting together offshoot projects like Ché, embarking on his solo career as a singer, guitarist and bandleader, founding his own record label and more, his history is a winding narrative of relentless, unflinching creativity. Expect timeless classics and a new album next Spring, and lay back to get into the groove with the one & only, Mr. BRANT BJORK live at the Arena Berlin!

Widely admired as one of the most ludicrously thunderous and entertaining live bands on the planet, longtime Desertfest comrades Orange Goblin, are on their unstoppable mission to bring us joyous, blood ’n’ thunder metal! With a steady stream of critically acclaimed albums that boldly and gleefully blurred the lines between stoner, doom, black, crust and southern rock, while always fervently saluting the old school heavy metal flag and the sacred Sabbathian code. 2020 will celebrate their 25th anniversary, still ORANGE GOBLIN is an inspiration, full of power and ready to unleash their thunder over Berlin!

Hailing from Japan, kraut rock masters Minami Deutsch have been finally confirmed for the Berlin edition of Desertfest! After their highly acclaimed show at Desertfest Belgium two years ago, desert festers in Berlin will be finally able to witness their unique, mesmerizing live performance. Kraut rock may be alive heavier than ever, but this Tokyo trio proves they are way more than just a revival act. Don’t miss this EXCLUSIVE show of the fantastic MINAMI DEUTSCH!

Sometimes music is supposed to feel weird and indescribable. It’s the moments of clarity within the dense, sonic mess that often feels the most satisfying. That’s the space that New Zealand prog-rockers Earth Tongue occupy. With their 2016- debut EP and a just released full-length album, these guys quickly became one of NZ’s most exciting underground live acts and it wasn’t long until they were playing alongside international touring bands like Red Fang, Beastwars or
Monolord. We are thrilled to welcome EARTH TONGUE live in 2020, taking us all on raw and fuzzy journey into psych-rock with a sound that weaves between melodic and jarring, with unexpected turns leaving us in a disoriented, euphoric haze.

Copenhagen trio, Papir, might be the ultimate expression of the Danish creative soul: distinctively modern, deceptively minimalistic, and stylish yet understated. A band of virtuoso musicians who move between psychedelic rock, jazz and krautrock seamlessly with the ability to hypnotize you at the Arena Berlin; PAPIR are the real deal for fans of bands alike Causa Sui, and could easily become the showboats of the scene!

Dhidalah burst into the fuzz rock scene in 2013, and has hailed from the Tokyo underground as a space rock power trio. The band name derives from the Japanese legend of the Giant Gods — known as the creaters of mountains, lakes and islands. DHIDALAH plays improvisational music performances inspired by various genres from stoner and doom to kraut rock. Give these Japanese Giant Gods a very warm welcome next Spring, when the Arena will be turned into a psychedelic wonderland!

Norway’s hottest underground act, SÂVER, is the new project of Ole Christian Helstad, Ole Ulvik Rokseth and Markus Støle of TOMBSTONES and HYMN. The band delivers an astounding sound of sublime heaviness, shimmering moogs, abrasive vocals and a devastating, gnarly bass. SÂVER’s tunes can be characterized by a strong component of apocalyptic synths and textural electronics hovering above the base of heavy guitars and bass – a mélange that works incredibly well, and has seen SÂVER rising up and being no longer just one of the world’s best kept music secrets!

Friends, we hope you enjoy this first round of bands as much as we do, with many more killer names to come. After last year’s changes of a new sound system, the “Black Box“, that many of you seem to appreciate, we will also again provide a lot more specials, space, and again a chill- and live zone on the ubercool Hoppetosse boat! Don’t miss THE fuzz rock party of the year, at the capitol of the almighty riffs: DESERTFEST BERLIN 2020 is ready to roll!

Tickets & more infos are now available at:
www.desertfest.de

https://www.facebook.com/events/520164272080736/
www.desertfest.de
www.facebook.com/DesertfestBerlin
www.instagram.com/desertfest_berlin

Masters of Reality, “Dreamtime Stomp”

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Jonas Munk & Nicklas Sørensen to Release Always Already Here in August

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Alright, now you listen to me because I’m probably only going to say this seven or eight more times. You set some silly little alert on your phone or you sign up for an email list from El Paraiso Records or you do whatever you have to do, and when Jonas Munk & Nicklas Sørensen‘ debut collaborative album, Always Already Here, is back in for preorder, you get that order in and you make that happen, because it’s the only way they’re going to keep doing records together and FOR THE SAKE OF ALL HUMANITY, that is a thing we very much want. Munk, of course of Danish heavy prog-psych instrumentalists Causa Sui, and Sørensen, of countrymen expansive jammers Papir, have both done solo outings through El Paraiso in the past, and that’s super, but if you’re curious why I might be approaching this topic with such a measure of urgency, listen to the track “Shift” below. True, it’s only one song, and I’m sure it doesn’t necessarily speak to the character of the entire album, but god damn it, this is the kind of shit that when the aliens come to destroy our species because we wasted the planet, we’ll be able to point to and say, “Yeah, but some of us made this stuff,” and maybe, just maybe, get away unvaporized.

Release date is Aug. 16.

Make it so:

jonas munk nicklas sorensen always already here

Jonas Munk & Nicklas Sørensen: Always Already Here

We’re proud to announce this collaborative effort from Jonas Munk (Causa Sui) and Nicklas Sørensen (Papir), out August 16th! Read more and swim away in the 10 minute opening track here.

Jonas Munk and Nicklas Sørensen team up for a genre-defying record that explores American minimalism, psychedelia, and electronic music – both vintage and contemporary. On a foundation of interlocking guitar and synthesizer patterns, the duo constructs lengthy pieces that are experimental yet welcoming in nature, precisely executed yet with room for soaring improvisation.

Always Already Here pays homage to the masters of classical minimalism (Steve Reich, Terry Riley) and the pioneers of electronic music and kosmische (Brian Eno, Manuel Göttsching), still it doesn’t sound derivative or retrospective. The type of hypnotic bliss Munk and Sørensen strive for is distinctly timeless.

https://www.facebook.com/elparaisorecords
https://www.instagram.com/elparaisorecords/
https://elparaisorecords.com/

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Review & Track Premiere: Papir, VI

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

papir vi

[Click play above to stream “VI.I” from Papir’s new album, VI. It’s out May 10 on Stickman Records.]

The trio of trio of guitarist Nicklas Sørensen, drummer Christoffer Brøchmann Christensen and bassist Christian Becher Clausen would seem to reach a new level of maturity in their presentation on their sixth album, suitably titled VI. Issued through Stickman Records as the follow-up to their debut on the label, 2017’s V (review here), it continues the Danish instrumentalists’ progressive streak that began with their 2010 self-titled and saw them align to El Paraiso for the subsequent three studio offerings, the last of which was 2014’s IIII (review here), as well as a live album. However, it’s also a marked departure from its predecessor in terms of basic intent, and where V was a 2LP with a staggering 94-minute runtime, VI pulls back on that impulse and instead offers four tracks in an entirely more manageable 39 minutes, feeling less like a splurge and more like a quick excursion to someplace peaceful and other.

Its songs are extended enough and lush with warm crash and mellotron filling out the mix, never mind the dream-toned guitar and effects, to be genuinely immersive, but the mood for the bulk of VI is bright and creative, as though the band were looking to open a conversation or at very least elicit one among those who’d engage with their work. To call it a headphone album is basically to ask someone if they like peaceful summer afternoons, and as the band evoke Yawning Man with some slide guitar and Colour Haze in the apex of “VI.III,” even this is brought into the broader context of their own characterization. That is, Papir have their influences, but rather than work toward them, they’re using them to the band’s own ends. They’re not trying to sound like anything other than themselves, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it suits them.

That shortened runtime is crucial to the experience of the album. It was no hardship to put V on and bliss out for the duration, but part of that experience was getting lost in the flow of Papir‘s material. VI is best given a more conscious approach to shifts like the percussiveness of “VI.IV” or the linear build in “VI.II” or the interplay of drift and wash that opens with “VI.I.” And they make that easy. There is some sense of structure as “VI.I” and “VI.IV” bookend the record at 10:07 and 11:04, respectively, while both “VI.II” and “VI.III” hover on either end of the nine-minute mark, ending side A and beginning side B with a fluidity that seems to extend to the conceptual. Yes, it’s still easy to get lost in what they’re doing if that’s the way you want to go, but doing so misses out on moments like the cascading river of tone in “VI.I” as it moves toward its conclusion, or the gradual opening of “VI.II,” with a bouncing, almost playful guitar leading the way accompanied by quiet but nuanced drums.

papir

I’m not going to try to dissuade anyone from listening to VI however they want, but to just float off on Clausen‘s “VI.III” bassline misses some of the exceptional details surrounding and obvious care the band have put into crafting their work. I guess what’s most called for, then, are multiple listens. So be it. The chemistry between Sørensen, Clausen and Christensen makes that a pleasurable undertaking, to be sure, and hey, if every now and again one might return to VI for a bit of escapism, I’m nobody to call it wrong. The point is that what Papir have created something that’s worth conscious interaction. Once you’ve done that, however you want to spend your time is up to you. Perhaps most crucial, they invite multiple listens in no small part through the accessibility of these tracks and the quicker runtime of the entire affair. You could put it on twice in less than the time it would take to listen to V once. That’s a considerable change, but it shows that growth doesn’t always have to mean just doing things bigger.

Indeed, I’ll gladly argue that VI is Papir‘s most progressive work to-date in no small part because they’ve taken such a conscious step to allow for easier audience engagement. Their material is still plenty far out, of course. The jazz drumming in “VI.IV” and the consuming effects that surround it demonstrate that plainly enough. But they make it so easy to listen. And to listen again, and to listen again. It’s not just about being shorter. That’s a piece of it, but even the songs themselves seem to flesh out in a way that signals Papir reaching a new sphere of expression. They are memorable even without verse or chorus hooks, and the atmosphere they set rests easily atop the entire LP as a welcome presence. Their style has always been exploratory, and that holds true here as well, but VI is as much about being in a place as it is about finding somewhere new to go. One can hear a certain restlessness in “VI.IV” as it rounds out the album with a last, well-earned payoff and crashes out quickly to end, and that’s consistent with what Papir have done in the past, but the difference is in the context through which that moment arises.

If by the end of VI the band are ready to head elsewhere, well, they should be, but that doesn’t diminish the ground they’ve covered in the songs preceding. Rather, across “VI.I,” “VI.II,” “VI.III” and “VI.IV,” they poetically ask their listeners to join them in this space they’ve created. That they don’t ultimately stay there shouldn’t be a surprise — they’ve done nothing to this point in their career that one would call static — but there is a sense throughout of having arrived on the part of the band, and if that’s part of how their maturity comes through in the material, then it finds Papir with an individualized take born of an organic development in their sound that’s played out over their records to this point, getting them to where they are. As to where they might go, the only guess I’d hazard is “forward,” since that’s where they’ve always gone. More important for the moment is what they’ve accomplished here in terms of positioning themselves among upper echelon of European heavy psychedelia.

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