The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 25

Posted in Radio on December 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

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As this is the final episode of The Obelisk Show… of the year — ha! gotcha — as well as being the 25th episode, it seemed only fair to make it a special one. As such, it’s a recap of Some of a Little Bit of the Best of 2019. Barely a snippet, really, but a digestible snippet as compared to, say, the full Top However Many list that’ll go up around here in the coming weeks.

This was a fun one to put together, and, frankly, easy. Yeah, I keep a running tally of what I think are any given year’s best records as the year plays out, but I pulled most of these just off the top of my head. Some are more recent, post-June, and some are from earlier in the year, but it’s all high-quality stuff, and though it by no means represents everything awesome that’s come my way — let alone all the stuff I’ve missed; Boris walks by and waves (on their way to the next Quarterly Review, anyhow) — it’s a fun look at some of a little bit of it. Hence the silly title.

I’ll be truthful and say I kind of miss doing this every other week, but it’s been once a month now for a couple months and I guess that’s fine. Gimme Radio has a couple other heavy rock-minded shows — John Brookhouse from Worshipper, Matt Bacon come to mind — but I’m still a little out there from that stuff, and I kind of like it that way. It’d be dishonest otherwise.

In any case, show’s on at 1PM today, and if you get to listen, I certainly appreciate it. Airs at http://gimmeradio.com

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 12.06.19

Nebula Let’s Get Lost Holy Shit
Monolord The Last Leaf No Comfort
Slomatics Telemachus, My Son Canyons
BREAK
Mars Red Sky Hollow King The Task Eternal
Blackwater Holylight Seeping Secrets Veils of Winter
Earth An Unnatural Carousel Full Upon Her Burning Lips
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard The Spaceships of Ezekiel Yn Ol I Annwn
Roadsaw Along for the Ride Tinnitus the Night
Lo-Pan Ascension Day Subtle
BREAK
Saint Vitus Remains Saint Vitus
Orodruin Letter of Life’s Regret Ruins of Eternity
Destroyer of Light Dissolution Mors Aeterna
Lord Vicar The Temple in the Bedrock The Black Powder
Goatess Goddess Blood and Wine
Yatra Smoke is Rising Death Ritual
BREAK
Inter Arma The Atavist’s Meridian Sulphur English

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every first Friday of the month at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is Jan. 3, I think. Thanks for listening if you do.

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Streaming: Saint Vitus Interview with Dave Chandler

Posted in audiObelisk, Features on August 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

saint vitus

It was a decade ago now that Saint Vitus began their reunion. At that point, it had been 14 years since the release of their final album, Die Healing (discussed here), in 1995. The not-quite-fully-original-but-definitely-the-most-influential lineup was guitarist Dave Chandler, vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, bassist Mark Adams and drummer Armando Acosta, the last of whom would soon be replaced by Henry Vasquez (Blood of the Sun), who had drummed for Chandler‘s short-lived Debris Inc. outfit earlier in the aughts, and would ultimately pass away in 2010Vitus — who are arguably the most influential American doom band, and certainly the most influential the West Coast ever produced — were knee-deep in triumphant reunion tours by then, between Europe and the US, and they’d continue to roll out a packed schedule after signing to Season of Mist and releasing the long-awaited Lillie: F-65 (review here) in 2012.

From there, things proceeded in a fashion that can only be considered pure Vitus. A couple years of steady touring followed supporting Lillie: F-65 and celebrating their landmark catalog, until Weinrich got arrested in Norway in late-2014 for amphetamines, and the band seemed to come apart. Enter original vocalist Scott Reagers, last heard from with what was then a return performance on Die Healing, to take up the frontman role. More touring commenced and the band went on to issuesaint vitus saint vitus Live Vol. 2 (review here) in 2016. Already the proposition of a new studio album had been raised, but work was inevitably stunted by the departure of bassist Mark Adams — a quiet presence on stage, but a founding member and someone essential to the sound all along — owing to complications from Parkinson’s disease. A replacement was found in Pat Bruders of Down and Outlaw Order, and with a somehow-brand-new-but-still-half-original lineup, Saint Vitus once again took to the road and took on the task of their next record.

Saint Vitus‘ 1984 debut, Saint Vitus, is a genuine landmark in doom. A Calipunk answer to Black Sabbath at their gutsiest and grimiest, it has stood the test of time for over 30 years and only grown more relevant with each passing decade. That Saint Vitus in 2019 — ChandlerReagersVasquez and Bruders — should title their new album Saint Vitus (review here) is no coincidence. How could it be? And from the quintessential doomly roll of “Remains” and “Last Breath” to the pulsating energy of “Bloodshed” and the delightfully hardcore punk closer “Useless,” it is in every way a reclamation of Saint Vitus‘ identity as a group. Call it full-circle or don’t, but it’s a record that both embraces who they’ve always been and gleefully, mischievously screws with genre-based preconceptions, Reager‘s growls and soaring voice essential to the personality of the outing even as Chandler steps in for a spoken word take on the experimentalist noise of “City Park.”

I won’t take away from what Bruders and Vasquez do together as a rhythm section, and why the hell would I, but no question that having Chandler and Reagers paired up again gives the 2019 Saint Vitus a clash-of-the-titans-style feel, and for more than just Chandler‘s seemingly endless collection of pro-wrestling t-shirts. In every way, the tracks on Saint Vitus — which again united the group with producer Tony Reed (Mos Generator, etc.) — earn the banner of the band’s name under which they arrive, and for the fact that Saint Vitus has endured in one form or another for the last 40 years, their spirit of survival continues to be a middle finger raised high in defiance of everything, including, at times, themselves.

There’s a lot of doom out there, but there’s only one Dave Chandler, and I was fortunate enough to talk to him a while back, before the album came out in May. You’ll find the audio of the interview below. Thanks for checking it out if you do.

Enjoy:

Interview with Dave Chandler

 

Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus (2019)

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 17

Posted in Radio on June 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

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So because I suck at naming themed episodes, this episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio was ‘Some of the Best of 2019 So Far.’ Yeah, I know, way to commit. Whatever. You get the point. We’re six months deep into the year if you can wrap your head around it, and it’s a good time to check in and see where we’re at.

One thing that stood out to me in making the playlist is that it’s been an exceedingly good half-year for doom. New records from Saint Vitus, Candlemass and Lord Vicar would be enough of their own, then you toss in stuff like Obsidian Sea and Demon Head, among others and it’s kind of incredible. Kings Destroy’s “Dead Before” is high on the list of the best songs I’ve heard this year, so I wanted to include that for sure, and there was room to space out a bit with Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree. I also really dug the Sigils record, and kind of felt like I didn’t write enough about it, so that’s in there too.

The bottom line, of course, is there was more than I could fit in one episode, and there are enough tracks that feel conspicuous in their absence for me to not put together a second episode working on the same theme. So I think I’ll probably do that next time. Can I get away with playing The Claypool Lennon Delirium on Gimme Radio? I don’t know, but it might be fun to try.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 06.07.19

Uffe Lorenzen Angakkoq Triprapport 0:04:08
Kings Destroy Dead Before Fantasma Nera 0:04:25
Green Lung May Queen Woodland Rites 0:06:41
BREAK
Spidergawd All and Everything Spidergawd V 0:06:12
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard Katyusha Yn Ol I Annwn 0:13:23
Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree Grandmother Grandmother 0:10:58
Sigils Samhain You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves 0:09:39
Thunderbird Divine Bummer Bridge Magnasonic 0:05:34
BREAK
Candlemass Under the Ocean The Door to Doom 0:06:15
Saint Vitus 12 Years in the Tomb Saint Vitus 0:05:23
Demon Head Strange Eggs Hellfire Ocean Void 0:07:01
Obsidian Sea A Shore Without a Sea Strangers 0:08:49
Lord Vicar Levitation The Black Powder 0:04:57
BREAK
Lo-Pan A Thousand Miles Subtle 0:04:06
Valley of the Sun Dim Vision Old Gods 0:03:55
Yatra Snakes in the Temple Death Ritual 0:06:41

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Friday at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is June 21. Thanks for listening if you do.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 13

Posted in Radio on April 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

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This was a good one. After last episode, which was kind of working on a theme of balancing different kinds of heavy against each other, it felt rewarding to just get down to business and play some tunes without worrying really about some grander statement. Plus, during the voice breaks I got to bitch about having a cold, and you know I loves me some complaining. What other recourse is there for such a condition? DayQuil? Well, okay, yes, but also complaining.

Anyway, it starts with new Valley of the Sun because golly goodness golly golly is that record good, and then there’s some High Reeper, and then Saint Vitus because I’m still so gosh darn proud of having premiered that track that I included it basically as a gloat to myself. It’s mostly new music this time, which is how I like it, but I’ll say that in doing my typical classic-track thing, the intro to Electric Wizard‘s “Funeralopolis” is the best one I’ve ever done. Look out for the Centrum and Sigils tracks — both are marvelous — and though I was basically late to the party on Mammoth Grove‘s Slow Burn, which came out last year, “Gloria” makes an excellent closer to the set, which doesn’t really have a miss in the bunch. Again, it was a good one.

Note the second airing has moved from Tuesday morning to Thursday morning. It’ll be this Thursday at 6AM Eastern, which I’m calling the “Euro airing,” which means it comes with universal healthcare and old buildings, I guess. That’ll be fun, and hopefully the cold will be gone by then, because it certainly isn’t yet.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 03.31.19

Valley of the Sun Means the Same Old Gods*
High Reeper Eternal Leviathan Higher Reeper*
Saint Vitus Bloodshed Saint Vitus*
BREAK
La Grande Armée Normandía La Grande Armée*
Sigils Faceless You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves*
Pyramidal Digital Madness Pyramidal*
Spaceslug Ahtmosphere Split with Major Kong, Dopelord & Weedpecker*
BREAK
Electric Wizard Funeralopolis Dopethrone
Abrahma Lost Forever In Time for the Last Rays of Light*
Centrum Stjärnor För Meditation*
The Devil and the Almighty Blues Salt the Earth Tre*
BREAK
Monocluster Leviathan Ocean*
Mammoth Grove Gloria Slow Burn

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Thursday at 6AM. Next show is April 14. Thanks for listening if you do.

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Review & Track Premiere: Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

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

saint vitus saint vitus

[Click play above to stream ‘Bloodshed’ from Saint Vitus’ upcoming self-titled album, out May 17 on Season of Mist. They’re on tour in Europe starting next month (dates here).]

Some 35 years ago, Saint Vitus defied the punk scene to which they mostly played at the time and issued their self-titled debut, an all-black cover with the band’s logo emblazoned on top, as though there was nothing else to say. And the raw doom that pervaded that 1984 release met that same barebones standard — as purely derived Sabbathian heavy as has ever existed outside the forebears themselves. With an undercurrent of hardcore punk’s upfront middle-finger-raised confrontation-prone attitude, Saint Vitus became one of modern doom’s formative and essential acts. They’ve come and gone over the years since and changed members and shape, but Saint Vitus are still Saint Vitus, and that would seem to be the message of their second self-titled release.

Also their third outing for Season of Mist behind 2012’s comeback studio offering Lillie: F-65 (review here) and 2016’s Live Vol. 2 (review here), it immediately enters conversation with the band’s earliest days thanks as well to the return of vocalist Scott Reagers, who rejoined the band in 2015 after a split with Scott “Wino” Weinrich (The Obsessed, etc.) — who had fronted the band since their reunion began at Roadburn Festival in 2009 — thereby keeping the proportion of original members in the band to two, as guitarist Dave Chandler remains the core of the group, while drummer Henry Vasquez (also Blood of the Sun) marks a decade with the group and bassist Pat Bruders (also Down, ex-Crowbar) makes his first appearance. For Reagers, it’s his first time fronting Vitus for a studio record since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here), which was the band’s final LP until the 2012 reunion release. That makes the new Saint Vitus — a candidate for all manner of nicknames taken from its cover art, whether it’s ‘The Fog Album,’ ‘The Murk Album’ (I like that one), ‘Grey Vitus’ or any number of others — all the more an event than it even would be arriving seven years after Lillie: F-65, and as it brings the band back together with producer Tony Reed (also of Mos Generator), its nine-track/41-minute run succeeds both in capturing the feel of classic Vitus and pushing their sound to places it hasn’t yet gone in the 40 years they’ve been a band.

Two examples to that point, both late in the album: “City Park” and “Useless.” Following the swaying noise/crashfest of “Hour Glass,” “City Park” is not at all the first time Chandler has taken on the vocalist position in the band — one recalls “Just Another Notch” from Die Healing and “A Timeless Tale” from 1992’s C.O.D. (discussed here), as well as “When Emotion Dies” from 1990’s landmark V, and so on — and of those, it’s probably most akin to “When Emotion Dies,” but “City Park” is on a different mission. Its noise is set to the purpose of atmospherics and drama in a way that Saint Vitus have never done before, and Chandler‘s spoken word, almost a whisper, is dark and narrative and backed by guitar noise in an experimentalist way that makes the four-minute piece much more than just an introduction to the subsequent “Last Breath,” which serves as a six-and-a-half-minute culmination of Saint Vitus‘ doomed persona, with a signature riff and lumbering groove and Reagers telltale vibrato over top.

“City Park” sets out to embody that murk on the cover, that feeling of unease of being alone someplace in the darkness with a shapeless and probably imaginary malevolence. “It might be illusion,” Chandler speculates. Indeed it might, but “City Park” is one example of Saint Vitus trying something new for them. At the same time, after “Last Breath” has answered back to the filthy churn and tension of album-opener “Remains” — sure to be a crowd-pleaser — a feedback introduction to album finale “Useless” takes up 13 of a total 91 seconds of what’s both the fastest and most outwardly punk rock song Saint Vitus have ever written. Gang shouts, blazing speed, and a social comment lyric that reminds of early C.O.C., it’s a stripped-raw moment of thrust that, especially in the context of the band’s four decades, seems to be done in good humor. One can almost imagine Chandler introducing it from the stage: “Well it took us 40 years, but we finally wrote a punk song.”

saint vitus

Saint Vitus are no strangers to playing fast. The eponymous track that opened the self-titled is a prime example, or even “Blessed Night” from the last record, but “Useless” goes a step further in a very similar way that “City Park” takes what they’ve done before and brings it to a new level. Even the earlier “A Prelude To…” — which is actually longer than “Bloodshed,” which it would seem to have been composed to introduce — steps beyond the limits of what one might expect from them, with a minimalist creeper of a guitar line and a vocal showcase from Reagers that drifts to about the 2:20 mark before Bruders‘ bassline enters to begin the introduction to “Bloodshed” in earnest. And while “Bloodshed” — arguably the most outwardly catchy inclusion here — and the subsequent “12 Years in the Tomb” both have good speed to their push, the latter finding Chandler taking a particularly noisy solo as Vasquez dutifully holds the track together, they’re still well within Saint Vitus‘ wheelhouse.

Likewise, the mid-tempo centerpiece “Wormhole” — which would seem to be a complement/update in lyrical theme to the opiate-minded “White Stallions” from 1985’s Hallow’s Victim, the band’s second record and the last of Reagers‘ original run with them — does well in fusing faster and slower methods and brings nuance of layered vocals in the verses to standout lines like, “I always feel safe in a sacred place/Far away from the human race,” emphasizing a perspective that is no less quintessentially Vitus than Chandler‘s ultra-low guitar tone, which is not only intact throughout these songs, but reestablished as the foundational component that it is of everything they’ve ever done. Especially as this is the first Saint Vitus full-length not to feature original bassist Mark Adams — whose Parkinson’s diagnosis was revealed last year — Chandler seems all the more the center of what makes the band who they are. That doesn’t, however detract from Reagers‘ performance across this material, as from “Remains” to “Useless” (notwithstanding “City Park”), he brings the most classic feel to the material that ties together the album’s diverse presentation. He surfs the groove of “Bloodshed” like a master and is no less at home among the filth and sleaze of “Hour Glass” than in the lurching final verse of “Last Breath.”

Thus it is a two-pronged righteousness to be found on Saint Vitus‘ Saint Vitus. They bring to bear the sound that’s made their legacy span generations as it has while also pushing themselves to try ways of working they’ve never done before. It’s difficult to look at this album out of the context of Saint Vitus‘ past output, but I’m not entirely sure we’re supposed to. Rather, even the title — or lack thereof — seems to hint at the band coming full circle, both in terms of Chandler and Reagers re-teaming for a studio album, for their ongoing flirtations with punk, and for their reclamation of the style and tone that was so much their own from the very start. Saint Vitus‘ Saint Vitus could stand alone, but it doesn’t have to, and especially considering how much the band has done to shape modern doom, it is all the more admirable that the creative restlessness that drove their earliest days would still be so vibrant these many years later. Why rest on your laurels when you can fully embody the miseries and disaffection of our age?

Saint Vitus, “12 Years in the Tomb”

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Saint Vitus Announce Self-Titled LP out May 17

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 27th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

saint vitus

Saint Vitus have never been much for following the rules, so hey, 35 years after making an absolute doom metal landmark in their 1984 self-titled debut, why not put out a new, also-self-titled album with original vocalist Scott Reagers back in the band? Season of Mist, which has been the band’s label home since their 2012 comebacker, Lillie: F-65 (review here), will stand behind the new offering — recorded, like its predecessor, by Tony Reed — and the band will support it on a month-long European tour beginning in April, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the band.

They’re streaming the track “12 Years in the Tomb” right now and as you can hear at the bottom of this post, the deranged style of founding guitarist Dave Chandler and Reagers‘ vocals sound like long lost friends finding each other after years apart. And so they are.

Album’s out May 17. Preorders are up now from the label, which posted the following:

saint vitus saint vitus

Saint Vitus – Saint Vitus

Taken from the album “Saint Vitus”. Release date: May 17, 2019. Order here: http://smarturl.it/SaintVitusShop

Seven years after their epic comeback album, ‘Lillie: F-65’ (2012), legendary doom metal trailblazers SAINT VITUS return with their eponymous new album. The band sees the return of their original vocalist, Scott Reagers, as well as the addition of new bassist Pat Bruders (DOWN, ex-CROWBAR), who join long-time drummer Henry Vasquez and founder/guitarist Dave Chandler. As if in a time machine, the seasoned quartet pick up where their 1985 classic ‘Hallows Victim’ left off. Saint Vitus delivers nothing less than the truest and most enduring representation of original and fundamental doom metal.

Tracklisting:
1. Remains
2. A Prelude to…
3. Bloodshed
4. 12 Years In The Tomb
5. Wormhole
6. Hour Glass
7. City Park
8. Last Breath
9. Useless

Recording: Heavyhead Recording co. Port Orchard, WA (US)
Producer/sound engineer: Tony Reed

SAINT VITUS ’40 F’N Years’ European Tour 2019:
w/ special guest Dopelord unless noted
Apr 3 Gothenburg (SE) @ Sticky Fingers
Apr 4 Stockholm (SE) @ Debaser Strand
Apr 6 Jyväskylä (FI) @ Lutakko
Apr 7 Helsinki (FI) @ On The Rocks
Apr 9 Oslo (NO) @ Blaa
Apr 10 Copenhagen (DK) @ Pumpehuset
Apr 11 Berlin (DE) @ So36
Apr 12 Hamburg (DE) @ Headcrash
Apr 13 Bomal-Sur-Ourthe (BE) @ Durbuy Rock Festival
Apr 14 Dortmund (DE) @ Junkyard
Apr 15 Cologne (DE) @ Luxor
Apr 17 Birmingham (UK) @ Mama Roux
Apr 18 Leeds (UK) @ Brudenell
Apr 19 Glasgow (UK) @ Audio
Apr 20 London (UK) @ The Underworld Camden
Apr 21 Paris (FR) @ Petit Bain
Apr 23 Nantes (FR) @ Le Ferrailleur
Apr 24 Toulouse (FR) @ Le Rex
Apr 25 Barcelona (ES) @ Boveda
Apr 26 Madrid (ES) @ Copernico
Apr 27 Barroselas (PT) @ Swr Metalfest
Apr 28 Bilbao (ES) Kafé @ Antzokia
Apr 20 Fribourg (CH) @ Fri-Son*
May 1 Milan (IT) Circolo @ Circolo Magnolia
May 2 Zurich (CH) @ Dynamo*
May 3 Karlsruhe (DE) @ Dudefest
May 4 Leipzig (DE) @ Ut Connewitz
*No Dopelord

BAND LINE-UP:
David Chandler (guitar)
Scott Reagers (vocals)
Henry Vasquez (drums)
Pat Bruders (bass)

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Saint Vitus, “12 Years in the Tomb”

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Friday Full-Length: Saint Vitus, Die Healing

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Saint Vitus, Die Healing (1995)

The idea at the outset of Die Healing was to do just that. By 1995, Saint Vitus had been playing since they got together as Tyrant in 1978, had six albums out, and no singer. Guitarist Dave Chandler, who as ever was the core of the unit when it came to songwriting, tracked vocals for a would’ve-been seventh album (I’d love to hear those tapes), but they were ultimately scrapped in favor of a reunion with original vocalist Scott Reagers for one last album and one last tour. “Let the End Begin,” indeed. They didn’t quite make it through that tour, but Die Healing — issued by Hellhound Records — stood for years as their final album and a testament to everything Vitus were as a band.

It remains and will remain their last record with their original lineup of Chandler, Reagers, bassist Mark Adams and drummer Armando Acosta, the latter of whom passed away in 2010, and more than that, from the opening crawl of “Dark World” and righteous outsider perspective of “One Mind” through the periodic speed bursts as in “Let the End Begin” or the lurch of songs like “Return of the Zombie,” “Trail of Pestilence,” “Sloth” and “In the Asylum” ahead of the okay-we’ll-finally-play-punk “Just Another Notch,” on which Chandler does in fact take the helm on vocals, Die Healing reaffirms the notion of just how right Vitus were all along to fly in the face of trends in underground music. I don’t know if during their original run, their worship at the altar of Black Sabbath was ever “the cool thing,” but they were unwavering.

There was always a vicious current of noise to Chandler‘s soloing, and through the work of Reagers on their 1984 self-titled debut and 1985’s Hallow’s Victim, Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s stepping into the frontman role on 1986’s Born Too Late, the 1987 Thirsty and Miserable EP, 1988’s Mournful Cries and 1990’s V, and Christian “Chritus” Linderson (Count Raven, now Lord Vicar) stepping in for 1992’s C.O.D., the band’s root in classic and grim heft prevented them from being at all in line with the metal of the day. They were doom. Unrelenting, unwavering doom. Die Healing might as well have been called ‘Die Slow,’ because if Vitus knew the band was coming to an end one way or another, they were going out the way they came in: volume up, tempo down, middle finger high.

I’m not sure if anything ever would or could replace the groundbreaking regression that was their self-titled or the mastery of the form they showed on Born Too Late, but neither should the grim saint vitus die healingatmosphere of Die Healing be discounted among the band’s myriad achievements of style and songwriting. With the theatricality in Reagers‘ vocals as heard on “In the Asylum” or even “Return of the Zombie” before it, Die Healing was in direct conversation with the first record, to the point that the latter track was a sequel to “Zombie Hunger” from the earlier release, but at 49 minutes, it was a product of the CD era too, and though Chandler had certainly handled some vocals in the past, on “When Emotion Dies” from Born Too Late, “Dragon Time” from Mournful Cries or “A Timeless Tale” from C.O.D., the fact that he effectively had the last say on the band’s last-until-the-reunion release in the addiction tale “Just Another Notch” spoke to his holding onto some piece of Vitus for himself.

That push and pull seems always to have existed in the band, and their split in 1996 stands as the dissolution of one of the greatest acts American doom has ever produced, but their volatility was a part of what made them so special in the first place. Saint Vitus were never going to be a completely stable entity. It wouldn’t have worked. Certainly they knew what they wanted sound-wise, and in the beginning they knew they wanted to be different, to play slow when others were playing fast, to be loud in a bottom-end-heavy kind of way that became signature to their style, but just because they were conscious of what they were doing doesn’t necessarily mean they were playing by a set of rules.

Consider Saint Vitus in relation to Sweden’s Candlemass. Similar start with their debuts in the mid-’80s, but Candlemass took on a cleaner Sabbathian sound, crisp and classy, whereas even on Die Healing, nearly 20 years after they first got together, Saint Vitus still sounded like the band who were going to steal your VCR while you weren’t looking. They flew in the face of rock, of pop, of metal, and of punk, and they proved just how ahead of their time they were when it was another full generation before they really even started to get their due from a broader audience.

Saint Vitus‘ reunion in 2009 with Weinrich on vocals led to 2012’s Lillie: F-65 (review here) and the 2013 reissue of their catalog through their new label, Season of Mist (plus tapes on RidingEasy), as well as a couple subsequent live records. No longer was Die Healing the last Vitus LP, and what had come full circle was reopened. With Henry Vasquez on drums, ChandlerAdams and Wino toured as triumphant heroes returning circa 2012 and 2013, but Wino‘s much-reported drug charge and subsequent five-year ban from European touring (now expiring) brought Reagers back into the lineup.

Adams, meanwhile, has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease — a GoFundMe was set up to help with his medical expenses — and Pat Bruders, who once took the place of Rex Brown in Down and was a founding member of Goatwhore, has been playing with them for the last couple years. That puts Chandler and Reagers as the remaining founders of the band currently in the lineup, but of course that volatile aspect is always there as well. Nonetheless, they’ll celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary with a European tour this coming Spring (dates here), and word has been bandied about of a new album in the works as well, though a solid release date remains to be set. One has to wonder if, when Saint Vitus‘ next record does arrive, it will feature a third installment of Reagers‘ zombie-centered lyrics. Nothing like a good sequel, and Die Healing certainly deserves the nod.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Last night was the first night I really slept this week. I’ve been waking up here and there throughout the night. Not the baby getting up or anything like that, just me. Wednesday I was up half the damn night, but last night I crashed pretty hard. I’ll still probably need a little downtime this afternoon if I can get it, and I wouldn’t necessarily call myself caught up, but every little bit counts.

I got a tattoo this week. It’s my first one. More on that later. It’s healing nicely. Not dying. Got my arm all gooped up and whatnot.

Today is my mother’s birthday and we’re still in New Jersey for the better part of this month, so my family is coming over to celebrate and get takeout and hang around, which will be good. I like being down here. There’s more space for that Pecan to run around and more shit for him to climb on, and the family time is good. Plus we’re like two minutes from the center of the universe, which is nice.

But anyway, things persist. I have an Inner Altar track premiere slated for Monday, but actually the rest of the week is pretty wide open right now, which I think is nifty. I’ll probably review John Garcia in there somewhere and maybe the new Skraeckoedlan record unless something else comes up, but I kind of like having a bit of flexibility for a change. November and December were crammed.

Episode 7 of ‘The Obelisk Show’ on Gimme Radio airs Sunday at 7PM Eastern. I’m going to stay up until 9 to listen and you should too. I also recently bought a Gimme t-shirt, which I think makes something or other official.

And I just got a new merch design from Shy Kennedy (Horehound, Blackseed Records, Descendants of Crom, etc.) that’s awesome and coming soon to the merch page for Dropout. I’m not going to post the design yet, but I’ve decided to call it “the lunar doomer” because I like slant rhymes and there’s a moon on it. It’s cool.

There’s more, probably, but I can’t think of it because golly-gosh I’m tired.

I hope you came through the holidays alright. That time of year is always a challenge for me, and my mother’s birthday is always kind of the finish line for it, so I’m right there. Made it. I’ve got writing to do this weekend, but today I’m gonna post stuff, read, chill, record voice tracks for Gimme Radio and just catch my breath a bit before everyone gets here this afternoon. I got up early to enjoy some coffee and a bit of doom, and I don’t regret it.

I hope you’re good. Really. I don’t know if I am or not. I have good days and bad. Really hard swings. But I’m glad to be around family for the time I am.

Alright.

Everyone have a great and safe weekend. Please. Forum, radio, merch at the merch table.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

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

the-top-30-of-2018

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

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

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

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

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

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

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

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

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

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

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

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

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

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

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

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

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

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

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

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

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

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

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

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

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

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

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

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

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

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

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

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

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

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

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

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

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

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

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

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

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

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

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

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

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

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

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

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

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

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

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

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

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

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

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

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

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

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

6. All Them Witches, ATW

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

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

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

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

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

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

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

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

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

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

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

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

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

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

Special Note

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

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

Best Short Release of the Year

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

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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

Okay, That’s It

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

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

So thanks.

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

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

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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