The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2015

Posted in Features on December 18th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

top 20 debuts of 2015 1

Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.

I’ll note right away that this list started out as a top 10. When it came to it, it didn’t seem fair to cut it off. Too much left out. It gets to a point where you look at your list of honorable mentions and it’s like three times as long as your list itself and you realize maybe you should up the numbers and give a few more records their due. So yeah, a top 20 it is.

The temptation with a list like this, especially since it’s dealing with bands working on their first full-length albums (EPs are counted separately), is to think of it as indicative of future movement overall, to try and measure some overarching trend from some of the best outings of the year. I’m not sure that’s a fair approach either to the bands who made these records or to everyone else who might come after, but if we step back and look at what’s presented in the list below, we see veterans resurfacing in new incarnations, new, young groups coming together with classic ideologies, a bit of heavy extremity, psych melding with pop, heavy rock going prog and much more.

What all that tells me is that notions like “underground” and “heavy,” these vague terms that get applied so liberally, are constantly expanding. Whatever their individual sound might be, these bands all pushed ahead an overarching stylistic progression in whatever they’re doing, and like the best of debut albums, they held promise for further growth beyond this already impressive output. It’s less about which seems like an immediate landmark, touchstone, whatever, than it is about what sets up and effectively begins that development going forward, though striking a chord in the present never hurts either.

To that end, here we go:

brothers of the sonic cloth brothers of the sonic cloth

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2015

1. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
2. Death Alley, Black Magick Boogieland
3. Cigale, Cigale
4. Kind, Rocket Science
5. Fogg, High Testament
6. Crypt Sermon, Out of the Garden
7. CHRCH, Unanswered Hymns
8. With the Dead, With the Dead
9. Demon Head, Ride the Wilderness
10. Sacri Monti, Sacri Monti
11. Stars that Move, Stars that Move
12. Chiefs, Tomorrow’s Over
13. Sunder, Sunder
14. Ecstatic Vision, Sonic Praise
15. Bison Machine, Hoarfrost
16. Serial Hawk, Searching for Light
17. Cloud Catcher, Enlightened Beyond Existence
18. Khemmis, Absolution
19. Sumac, The Deal
20. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, The Devil and the Almighty Blues

Honorable Mention

By way of honorable mentions, first I have to give a nod to Foehammer‘s self-titled debut EP, which would be on this list probably in the top five if not the top three were it not for the fact that, as noted, it’s an EP. Its list will come. The 2015 release of Horsehunter‘s self-titled on Magnetic Eye was killer as well, but since the album initially came out in 2014, it didn’t seem fair to include it in the list proper.

Releases from Killer Boogie, Snowy DunesSweat LodgePlanes of SatoriDoctoR DooMLasers from Atlantis and Lords of Beacon House (I heard the EP, not the LP) also provided thrills a-plenty, and while I recognize that sounds like sarcasm, please rest assured it’s not. I’m sure there are others, and as always, I reserve the right to tweak mentions and numbers over the next however many days, weeks, years, etc.


There wasn’t much mystery to this one for me. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth held onto that top spot for most of the year, and it seemed like no matter what came along, the wall of sound that Tad Doyle and company built on that record simply would not be torn down. As oppressive in tone as it is in atmosphere, it was a long-awaited debut that produced devastating results the ripples from which I expect will continue to resonate well into 2016 and beyond.

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth is one example of a veteran presence finding a new home, as several did this year. See also, Sumac with former members of IsisEcstatic Vision with players from A Life Once LostWith the Dead with members of Cathedral and Ramesses coming together for the first time, Kind drawing its lineup from the likes of RoadsawMilligramRozamov and Elder, and even groups like Sunder, who previously released an album together under the moniker The Socks before abandoning that project in favor of the current one, as well as Sacri Monti, with a member from Radio Moscow in tow, Cigale, who had two members from SungrazerStars that Move which sprang from Starchild, and Death Alley with members of MührGewapend Beton and The Devil’s Blood showcased how one band flows out of another and out of another, and so on.

That Death Alley debut had charm worthy of its title — which was also my favorite of the year — and showed the potential of that band to set up a real stylistic range going forward. I hope they continue to expand, get a little weird and freaked out and keep that core of songwriting and forward drive that makes Black Magick Boogieland so propulsive. For new bands, Cigale‘s self-titled was beautiful, but would later become tinged with tragedy following the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets earlier this year. Not to mention friends and family, his is a significant loss for European psychedelia as a whole, and while that was inarguably one of the low points of 2015, the album itself remains a gorgeous statement.

Young acts like FoggDemon HeadBison MachineSunderCloud Catcher and even Sacri Monti showcased varied takes on classic heavy, some more into boogie and jams and some looking for something a little rougher edged. Cloud Catcher‘s progressive take was a particularly pleasant surprise, while Sunder‘s psychedelia teemed with melody and a cohesive presence born out of what could’ve been unhinged otherwise. Between these, the heavy riffing of The Devil and the Almighty Blues and Serial Hawk, the formative fuzz of Chiefs, the resonant doom of Khemmis and the righteous traditionalism of Crypt Sermon, the notion of genres and subgenres as an ever-expanding universe seemed to be playing out on a weekly basis.

This, invariably, leads to new extremes, which in turn brings me to CHRCH. Like Foehammer, whose EP is in honorable mentions, the Unanswered Hymns long-player from CHRCH was a bright spot especially for how little light it seemed to let escape its abyssal grasp. They’re an easy bet for a band to catch on because they’ve garnered a formidable response already, but what sticks out to me most about them is the sense of pushing established parameters into fresh territory. What they’ll do in the months and years to come of course remains to be seen — they could break up tomorrow; it happens — but where a group like Primitive Man are almost singularly based on extremity of pummel and brutality (not to take away from them), CHRCH have the space in their sound for a multi-faceted progression, and that’s a huge part of what made Unanswered Hymns so encouraging.

I know there were many more debut LPs than these released this year, and even more debuts that were EPs and demos of note and things like that. The reason I single out debut albums for a list is because it’s among the most pivotal offerings a band can make. You’ll never get to release a second debut record. Some bands never live theirs down, some never attain quite the same level again and struggle with it for decades. Either way, it’s no small thing to get a group together and bring it to the point of putting out a first long-player, and that accomplishment in itself, regardless of the results, is worth highlighting.

No doubt I’ve left a few excellent offerings out. I hope you’ll let me know in the comments what debut albums landed hardest with you in 2015. In any case, thanks for reading.


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Stars that Move, Stars that Move: Holding a Gaze

Posted in Reviews on September 11th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

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The self-titled debut full-length from Georgian trio Stars that Move is a richly stylistic and still somewhat understated affair. To explain: tonally, in its classic swing and garage-buzz presentation, topped off with stare-at-it-long-enough-and-lose-your-mind artwork by David Paul Seymour, the eight-track offering is clear in its aesthetic intent. Touches of cult rock pervade songs like “The Blue Prince” and “She that Rules the King,” but that’s not necessarily the entirety of the band’s context. More pivotal to the experience of the album than any thematic leaning in the lyrics are the swaying rhythms that take hold with opener “I Hold a Gaze” and remain firmly in place leading to the spaciousness of closer “Burning in Flames.”

Both the opener and the closer, as well as “The Blue Prince,” “She that Rules the King” and the penultimate acoustic interlude “No Evil Star” were included on Stars that Move‘s earlier-2015 Demo Songs EP (review here) in what may well have been the same recordings. Likewise, the Black Sabbath cover “A National Acrobat” that serves (“No Evil Star” notwithstanding) as the centerpiece of the album, was previously issued as a digital single, but if the full-length was compiled from past recordings, its sound is consistent and its flow uninterrupted. All of this, and it’s still fair to call Stars that Move “somewhat understated,” as above, because it’s only 25 minutes long. In fact, the only song that touches the four-minute mark is the Sabbath cover, and for the rest of what the three-piece of vocalist Elisa Maria, guitarist Richard Bennett and drummer Frank Sikes create, the core structures are so straightforward and traditional that, while stylistically elaborate, they retain a wide accessibility. A catchy song is a catchy song.

Stars that Move have plenty of them. Bennett and Sikes both being members of underrated stoner-doomers Starchild — also not shy about covering Sabbath in their day, or Sleep — one might expect tonal overload, but that’s not what this band is about. The upshot of “I Hold a Gaze” and “The Blue Prince” one into the next is that a lot of the impression is left to Maria to carry, but between her layering and the grit in Bennett‘s guitar, which, as anyone who ever heard Starchild can tell you is not an accident — he is someone who has given considerable thought and effort to crafting a tone — the initial vibe of Stars that Move feels somewhat derived from Uncle Acid but working in its own vein as well.

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“From East to West,” which follows, is one of two songs not traced to a prior outing — either Demo Songs or the Jan. 2015 No Evil Star EP — the other being “The Hidden Hand,” which arrives after “A National Acrobat,” and has more bounce than swing, but ultimately works in a similar mindset, though Maria‘s vocals come through less layered and more distinct. The same could be said of “The Hidden Hand,” but that song is even further distinguished by the open groove of its chorus and psychedelic lead-work that emerges in the second half, less directly Iommic than that of “The Blue Prince,” though whether that’s a result of actually being newer or just something easily read into the narrative of what I know about the recordings, I couldn’t say. Either way, “A National Acrobat” between them, they seem to stand out all the more, though I won’t take anything away from Stars that Move‘s version of the Sabbath classic or how well the trio adapt it to their own aesthetic. Maria even adds the Ozzy laugh “Ha-ha!” as it swirls toward the end, though ultimately its Bennett whose performance proves the most striking in taking on such broadly identifiable solos.

It is short, true, but Stars that Move is likewise hypnotic, and while the cover will be somewhat jarring on a first listen through if only because it’s likely the audience will know the original version, “The Hidden Hand” restores the trance with its interlaced leads and start-stop riffing, resulting in what’s to that point the most psychedelic push yet. That might make “She that Rules the King” a return to earth, but the hook retains some airiness amid the strutting central riffs, and so the vibe once again is maintained leading to “No Evil Star” — which appeared both on Demo Songs and as the intro to the EP that shared its name; “Burning in Flames” followed on both releases as well — perhaps no less Sabbathian than the cover for its “Laguna Sunrise”-style feel and thoughtful acoustic strum.

No question as to why “Burning in Flames” would be paired with it across three separate offerings: it works. Also based around acoustic guitar, the finale of the album is also its most atmospheric cut and hits its mark around the lines, “We are the world/Burning in flames,” delivered in Maria‘s most confident declaration here, even if it is the prior recording repurposed. It’s a quiet finish to Stars that Move, but effective, and even it gives some hint at where and how the band might develop moving forward. Because of its quick runtime, I’d almost be tempted to say it’s an EP, but the flow Stars that Move pull off across the span is unmistakable in its aim, and though brief, they deliver a long-player feel and a deceptively broad scope in these tracks, while also establishing a foundation from which to work going into whatever they do next and staking an aesthetic claim that finds them cohesive in sound and approach and varied enough to work in a range of moods. To call it anything other than a successful first album would be denying it its due.

Stars that Move, Stars that Move (2015)

Stars that Move on Thee Facebooks

Stars that Move on Bandcamp

Stone Groove Records on Bandcamp

Twin Earth Records

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