Motorpsycho to Release Kingdom of Oblivion April 16

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 22nd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

motorpsycho

Business as usual for Motorpsycho, being nominated for the Spellmann for one record even as they announce they’ve got another one in the can and due out in a couple months. Typical. You know what the difference is between Motorpsycho and other bands who put out a ton of records? The consistency. Motorpsycho could put out an album (or two) every year, and if some of them weren’t that good, well fine, you wait for the next. But they’ve amassed this insurmountable catalog, and I’m sure they’re not all gold — no way I’m going to tell you I’ve heard them all — but I’ve yet to find a real stinker in the bunch. And the run they’ve been on for the last decade is enviable to say the least. And when Enslaved shouts you out as an influence on their own latter-day work — and it’s true! — you’re doing alright.

Once again, onto my running upcoming albums list Motorpsycho go. I don’t know why I ever take them off, frankly.

Still, this is not a band to take for granted.

From the PR wire:

motorpsycho kingdom of oblivion

MOTORPSYCHO Announce New Album “Kingdom of Oblivion”!

Hard times call for big riffs. And, it seems, also for big news:

Not only was Motorpsycho’s 2020 album “The All is One” nominated for a Spellemannprisen (a Norwegian Grammy) in the Best Rock Album category, but just recently the band also announced a new Motorpsycho album titled Kingdom of Oblivion!

“It is clear to us that TAIO reached a pretty wide audience, and we are as grateful as ever for all of you taking the time to listen to what we do.” Comments the band on their homepage. “It is really important to us to not become an oldies band merely dealing in nostalgia, and the only way we can avoid that is by forging ahead and trying to make music that is true to who we are. When you lot show your appreciation by buying the new records and not just baying for the old schlägers, that makes it all feel worthwhile and important, and that is all we can ask. Thank you!

“On that subject … we have a new record coming out in a couple of months!”

[ Artwork by Sverre Malling ]

The release date has been slated for April 16th, 2021 through Stickman Records, Kingdom of Oblivion will be available on 2LP, CD and digitally. While the pre-sale is scheduled to start on Friday, March 5th, watch out for many more details and a first single to follow in the weeks ahead!

Motorpsycho is: Bent Sæther, Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan, Tomas Järmyr.

https://www.facebook.com/motorpsycho.official/
https://twitter.com/motorpsychoband
http://motorpsycho.no/
https://www.facebook.com/Stickman-Records-1522369868033940/
https://www.instagram.com/stickmanrecords/
https://www.stickman-records.com/

Motorpsycho, “The All is One”

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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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Friday Full-Length: King Buffalo, Live at Freak Valley

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 29th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Live at Freak Valley is everything one could reasonably ask a live record from King Buffalo to be. Recorded in 2019 in Germany at the Rockpalast-captured Freak Valley Festival, which has become an institution unto itself in Europe’s heavy rock underground, packed full of outdoor summer fests as it may be, it found the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson supporting their 2018 sophomore full-length, Longing to Be the Mountain (review here), on tour in Europe. And they’re in top form. The 54-minute set pulls together tracks from the second album, their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), as well as the title-cut from earlier-2018’s Repeater EP (review here), and in the energy of their performance and how it melds with their emergent heavy psychedelic grooves, the fluidity in and between the songs, it is nothing less than graceful, and it demonstrates the mastery the three-piece have over the immersive sound they create.

A spoken introduction in German brings them to the stage, and they begin with “Sun Shivers” from Longing to Be the Mountain, starting with a shorter track to draw the crowd in, which seems to work if the captured response is anything to go by. From there, it’s all-in, with “Longing to Be the Mountain” back-to-back with “Repeater” in a gorgeous 25-minute meld of molten, weighted psychedelics. The sprawl King Buffalo establish on stage at Freak Valley is different from on their albums, but no less engaging, and that’s a testament to the band’s commitment to their aesthetic. That is, it would be easy for them to be a rawer band live than they are. Instead, the melodies are intact and songs are drawn together one into the next by improvised-sounding stretches of guitar effects or sort of mini-jams. Consider the way “Repeater” gives way to “Orion,” and the emergence of that recognizable guitar figure as the song itself starts. It is an invitation to those fortunate enough to be assembled in front of the stage watching and hearing the band, to come and take part in the proceedings, as much a journey inward as far-out.

That sounds like hyperbole and maybe it is, but fuck it, I don’t care anymore. Put the song on and listen to the patience in Donaldson‘s drumming KING BUFFALO LIVE AT FREAK VALLEYand Reynolds‘ bassline. Listen closely and you can hear someone in the crowd shout “fuckin’ beautiful!” at the end of “Orion,” and I can’t disagree, as Live at Freak Valley has given me a new appreciation for that song and how it’s obviously grown in the years since they released the album of the same name. But for, well, the rest of the thing, “Orion” would probably be a highlight, with McVay‘s communion with the constellation in the arriving-in-its-own-time first verse leading to the later surge that carries them out into a stop before “Kerosene” from the same record picks up with the drums starting ahead of the guitar, feedback announcing its coming before the actual howling begins. The tension there is palpable and that it gets paid off should be a surprise to no one who heard the album version, its second half working in stages to push through the finish with a winding but energetic pulse.

After due applause, they wrap with Longing to Be the Mountain closer “Eye of the Storm,” McVay saying beforehand that they’ll be hanging out by the merch area after the set. It’s easy to romanticize that idea now, right? Band plays a good show to a ready crowd, it goes out streamed live through one of Germany’s greatest rock and roll properties — that being Rockpalast — and then goes and sees friends new and old, sells some vinyl, some shirts, shakes hands, takes pictures, maybe watches some of A Place to Bury Strangers, who play next, and then probably eventually goes to find some food. It’s like something that happened in a different dimension and it sounds so simple. What the hell.

I’ll spare you the in-a-world-without-live-music-live-albums-are-treasure rant. You’re welcome. More even than that, what Live at Freak Valley does is give a look at the vitality of the band itself. They sound excited to be there. They’re playing like they’re excited to be there, and yet the songs aren’t egregiously fast. King Buffalo aren’t rushed in their delivery. They play through the material with, as noted, a masterful touch; one born of time spent doing exactly what they’re doing here — playing the set. The progression the band undertook between their first album and their second was no accident — they’ve communicated it to their listeners every single step of the way. From Orion to Repeater to Longing to Be the Mountain, the band cast off the trappings of being strictly heavy blues or strictly anything else. Psychedelic, progressive, thoughtful, melodic, heavy, spontaneous — all that and more carried across in the material of Longing to Be the Mountain, and it comes through on Live at Freak Valley as well. Shit, they end with a jam. A jam! What more could they possibly do to signal that the story goes on from here?

And it does. Last year, amid canceled tours and plans upended, King Buffalo issued their Dead Star EP (review here), which showed not only a more meditative aspect of their sound, but a branching out into the realms of atmospheric and dramatic synthesizer as well. What does all that portend when it comes to an awaited third full-length? I have no clue, and likewise I have no clue how spending a year off the road will affect their style or their approach in the studio, because of course these things feed off each other. All of this we’ll have to wait to know, but that the anticipation to do so even exists is evidence of how crucial a purpose Live at Freak Valley serves, not just in bridging the gap between one release and the next — though that too — but in giving a showcase to the depth and multifaceted nature of the band’s evolution. Long may it continue.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Another week where I could feel my mind shrink and my ass expand. I’m just trying to get through the days at this point. I don’t even have a reason why. I just want to go to bed, put the pillow over my head, and wake up three times and push the alarm back until I finally just give up and sleep as late as I can. That’s around 7 or so when The Pecan is up. He’s back in school now. Two cases of the plague among the staff this week. They’ll shut down again, I’m sure. Probably a day after he’s used to getting on the bus again. That seems to be how it’s timed thus far. Yes, I take it personally. I take everything personally. It’s fucking called narcissism. Look it up.

Speaking of me, I was doing myself a favor with the King Buffalo pick up there. Feel like I’ve been writing about a lot of live records lately but of course there are a lot to be written about as bands try to keep momentum going between albums when they can’t tour, or want to take advantage of a Bandcamp Friday or want to remind people they exist or whatever it might be. I knew it was something I’d enjoy when I put it on and, sure enough, I enjoyed it. That’s a good band.

Anyway.

Next week is packed. Some of it you’ll give a crap about, some of it you won’t. Same as ever.

No Gimme show this week, though I turned in the playlist for next week already. It’s a weird one. Cool.

I wish you well. Hope you and yours are safe and healthy and all that. Don’t forget to hydrate.

Thanks for reading.

FRM.

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Nick DiSalvo to Release LP From Solo-Project Delving

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 29th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Delving — also stylized all-lowercase: delving — is a not the first side-project from Elder‘s Nick DiSalvo, as one might recall Gold & Silver‘s 2014 album, Azurite and Malachite (review here), prefacing many of the progressive turns that would soon be folded into Elder‘s work. As Delving begins to move toward its own debut, with DiSalvo working as yet unaccompanied in the band, one can’t help but look forward to what might manifest as he forgets “bands, fans and expectations,” and perhaps some of the pressures those things might place on the creative process. Sounds like a refreshing idea.

No audio yet, as the album was being mixed as of the start of this year, but it’s apparently already being pressed, as Stickman Records (also Elder‘s label in Europe) tells it:

delving nick disalvo

delving joins Stickman!

We’re happy to announce a brand new project from Elder guitarist/singer Nick DiSalvo, a (at the present) solo endeavor called delving. The debut album, recorded in December of 2020 at Big Snuff Studio in Berlin, is already in production and we’ll be announcing more details soon. From the horse’s mouth:

“I’m an almost obsessive songwriter, working on music every day and amassing a huge collection of song fragments and ideas that often don’t get the attention I’d like because of the time I spend with my main band. “Thanks” to this pandemic, I’ve had plenty of time to pick up some of the songs I’ve written over the past years and finally make an album that I’ve been telling myself forever I’d do.

From my earliest moments as a musician, I have been obsessed with home recordings, begging my parents for a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder for Christmas when I was 12 and making my own albums. delving is a continuation of this creative spirit: experimenting all on my own, forgetting bands, fans and expectations and making whatever music I want to.”

https://www.instagram.com/delving_music/
https://www.stickman-records.com/
https://www.facebook.com/Stickman-Records-1522369868033940

Elder, Omens (2020)

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Needlepoint Stream Walking up That Valley in Full; Album out Friday

Posted in audiObelisk on January 26th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

needlepoint

The fifth full-length from Oslo’s NeedlepointWalking up That Valley, is set to release this Friday, Jan. 29, through Stickman Records. It is a graceful offering and finds the central four-piece not only indulging their own multi-instrumentalism, with vocalist/guitarist Bjørn Klakegg taking on flute, violin and cello, bassist/producer Nikolai Hængsle adding guitar, and David Wallumrød adding an entire piano-store’s worth of keys and synth to go with Olaf Olsen‘s drums, but branching out with guest percussion and backing choral vocals as well. Classically progressive — or is that progressively classical? — the album comprises eight songs and runs 43 minutes of mostly serene, jazzy and richly melodic fare, consciously drawing elements from British folk and Scandinavia’s own broad history of nature-worshiping creation. Songs like “So Far Away” or the midsection of “I Offered You the Moon” bring a gentle touch, but there’s almost always subtle movement happening underneath, be it in bass, drums, keys or guitar behind the softly-delivered vocals, and Walking up That Valley isn’t without its moments of push, it’s really just a question of how hard the band is willing to shove the listener in those stretches.

Not very, is the answer, and for Needlepoint — whose very moniker evokes images of precise, hand-crafted work — that’s clearly the intention. “Rules of a Mad Man” starts the record at a decent clip, though, and is one of the more active inclusions. Even so, what’s more striking is the level of detail in the song itself. The changes from one keyboard to another, the intricacy of the rhythmic patterning and the melody that seems to rest so naturally on top of it. Maybe this isn’t too much to ask for a band on their fifth LP, but that doesn’t make it any less engaging. “I Offered You the Moon” puts the drums forward at first for a bit of jazz-poetry and adds flourish of keys and bass, dropping to a field of flowing folk before picking up gradually again, keys and drums and percussion gaining volume and intensity over the next couple minutes until the vocals return, the bass beneath doing jabs to dare the guitar to join, which it does. It’s a freakout by the end, and it leads to the relatively subdued “Web of Worry,” with acoustic guitar and flute needlepoint walking up that valleyand keys, handclaps and ghost-note snare popping behind, sweetly melodic and a step en route to “So Far Away,” which is about as close as Walking up That Valley gets to ’60s folk, with violin joining in the second half to bolster the already organic spirit.

I’m not sure if “Where the Ocean Meets the Sky” is the start of side B, but it would make sense either way, and honestly, by then, the fluidity of Needlepoint‘s craft is such that if you’re in, you’re in for the duration. In any case, the song leads with vocals in a kind of purposeful semi-contrast from the end of “So Far Away” before it and works around a solidified drum line that takes off into a short solo with some more rhythmic urgency as it moves toward its midpoint, keys assuring the melody isn’t lost before things calm down again. Walking up That Valley never quite goes full-bebop, but one can see where Needlepoint might have in the jams these songs are built from. Vocals again begin “Carry Me Away,” free of effects but not at all dry, over a deceptively quick drum tempo building to an entry of organ and a wah-laced electric guitar solo in the second half — a bit of Hendrix to run alongside the keys. It works well and is no less classy than anything that surrounds as it leads to the arrival of the choral vocals, which feels like an arrival indeed, the lyrics depicting the scenario from the album’s cover in singalong-ready fashion. That burst of energy gives over to the penultimate “Another Day” which starts out stripped down and works its way up but never quite reaches for the same heights as the song before it, and fair enough for that, since there’s still the 10-minute closing title-track to come.

“Walking up That Valley” begins to take shape around vocal lines and spare guitar, with keys farther back in the mix and drums making their way in patiently behind the story being told, only to take a more forward role after four minutes in. An all-go jam ensues, with flute, and percussion and drums, guitar, bass, keys, and so on building to a fervent head until, a little past the nine-minute mark, the vocals return. The vitality of that jam isn’t totally gone — the drums are still there, the keys, the vocals are layered, etc. — but the final showcase of symmetry underscores the purposefulness writ large throughout Walking up That Valley, as Needlepoint cap with an electric solo on a somewhat surprisingly quick fade as though one is waking up from a dream when it’s over. I don’t doubt that there are “happy accidents” that came up during the recording process as they inevitably do, but every change/movement here feels, if not directed, then at very least considered. In its most lush and minimal stretches, Walking up That Valley shows itself to be the output of a group well aware of who they are and what they want to do, who are nonetheless not at all restrained by that self-consciousness. There is an escapist element, to be sure, but met consciously, the songs are all the more gorgeous.

You’ll find Walking up That Valley streaming in full below, followed by more from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Needlepoint is a Norwegian group based in Oslo that straddles the border between jazz and prog in a unique and timeless way. Based around the renowned guitarist Bjørn Klakegg, the band is rounded out by a veritable who’s-who of the Nordic jazz and rock scene, including members of Elephant9, Møster!, Bigbang and others.

Their first album The Woods Are Not What They Seem was released in 2010, followed by Outside the Screen (2012), Aimless Mary (2015) and The Diary of Robert Reverie (2018). Their upcoming album entitled Walking Up That Valley is slated for release in fall 2020.

The band says the following about their new record:
Nikolai and Bjørn have cooperated in the making of all the albums, from Bjørn’s ideas being captured on his phone up until their journey’s conclusion up on the record’s grooves. Bjørn considered himself a jazz musician when he first met Nikolai, but his old British heroes from the 70s such as ELP stepped out of the fog in the musical company of the now Needlepoint bassist. Olaf Olsen and David Wallumrød were Nikolai’s unconditional choices to fulfill the lineup.

Needlepoint started as an instrumental band, but when the second album was almost finished, Bjørn and Nikolai had a talk that lead to Bjørn’s first steps towards an identity as a singer. That talk also changed the identity of the band.

It was never really a conscious choice of style by the band, but Needlepoint is now considered a prog band by many listeners, and it’s a pleasure having such an addicted audience by their side. Many people mention the Canterbury Scene to describe the bands profile, and Robert Wyatt, Sid Barret, Caravan, Camel and even King Crimson and Yes are also mentioned to place our musical identity.

The last album is absolutely connected to the previous ones, but there are also new sounds to be heard. Bjørn has picked up his flute and violin, so there is a strange little orchestra appearing here and there in the album. Olaf is accompanied by Erik, who plays percussion on the album, and their fun together is audible on the album, while David treats his collection of beautiful vintage keyboard instruments like no one else. Everything is supervised by producer and bass player Nikolai Hængsle; his bass playing as powerful and brilliant as always, and Bjørn’s vocal are more present than ever in this production. In some of the tracks the band is touching new areas, but absolutely without losing its identity.

Needlepoint is:
Bjørn Klakegg : lead vocals, guitars, violin, flute, cello
David Wallumrød : hammond organ, clavinet, rhodes, harpsichord, upright piano, prophet-5, arp odyssey, arp solus, minimoog
Nikolai Hængsle : electric bass, backing vocals, guitars on «Rules of a mad man» and «So far away»
Olaf Olsen : drums

Special guests: Erik Nylander : percussion

The «Carry me away»choir: Indra Lorentzen, Camilla Brun, Maria Vatne, David, Nikolai, and Bjørn
Words and music by Bjørn Klakegg
Arranged by Bjørn Klakegg and Nikolai Hængsle
Produced by Nikolai Hængsle

Needlepoint on Thee Facebooks

Needlepoint on Bandcamp

Needlepoint website

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Stickman Records website

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

london-news-etching-1854-newcastle-upon-tyne

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

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

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

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

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

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

ukmedsnorx.com/zopiclone
ukmedsnorx.com/zolpidem

Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists High Priestess would do to follow their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), and the three-piece did not disappoint, instead gave a ritual mass that included the 17-minute concept piece “Invocation” alongside infectious and ethereal melodies like “The Hourglass.” And now that the circle’s been cast? Seems like they can do anything.

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

High-powered cosmic metal from Finland pulling apart heavy psychedelia on an atomic level with an urgency that speaks of youth, progress and an ingrained need for exploration? Sign me up. A lot of bands on this list put out their first album this year. There are few for whom my hopes are as high as they are for Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

Of the sundry horrors 2020 wrought, a new album from long-running Toronto three-piece Sons of Otis was an unexpected positive, and their ultra-spaced, murky riffs on their first studio album since 2012’s Seismic (review here, also here) launched like a slow-motion escape pod of righteous doom (s)tonality. There will never be another Sons of Otis. Be thankful for everything you get from them.

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

Organ, Mellotron, sitar, acoustic and electric guitars, various percussion elements, and of course the inimitable fragility in Craig Williamson‘s voice itself — the ingredients for Lamp of the Universe‘s Dead Shrine were familiar enough for those familiar with the one-man outfit running more than two decades, but the lush acid folk created remains a standout the world over. Dead Shrine was a much-needed gift of peace and meditation.

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

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

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

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

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

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

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

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

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

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

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

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

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

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2021

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Quarterly Review: Across Tundras, Motorpsycho, Dark Buddha Rising, Vine Weevil, King Chiefs, Battle Hag, Hyde, Faith in Jane, American Dharma, Hypernaut

Posted in Reviews on December 29th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Just to reiterate, I decided to do this Quarterly Review before making my year-end list because I felt like there was stuff I needed to hear that I hadn’t dug into. Here we are, 70 records later, and that’s still the case. My desktop is somewhat less cluttered than it was when I started out, but there’s still plenty of other albums, EPs, and so on I could and probably should be covering. It’s frustrating and encouraging at the same time, I guess. Fruscouraging. Life’s too short for the international boom of underground creativity.

Anyway, thanks for taking this ride if you did. It is always appreciated.

Quarterly Review #61-70:

Across Tundras, The Last Days of a Silver Rush

Across Tundras The Last Days of a Silver Rush

Issued as part of a late-2020 splurge by Tanner Olson and Across Tundras that has also resulted in the full-length LOESS – LÖSS (review here), as well as three lost-tracks compilations called Selected Sonic Rituals, an experimental Western drone record issued under the banner of Edward Outlander, and an EP and three singles (two collaborative) from Olson solo, The Last Days of a Silver Rush offers subdued complement to the more band-oriented LOESS – LÖSS, with an acoustic-folk foundation much more reminiscent of Olson‘s solo outings than the twang-infused progressive heavy rock for which Across Tundras are known. Indeed, though arrangements are fleshed out with samples and the electrified spaciousness of “The Prodigal Children of the God of War,” the only other contributor here is Ben Schriever on vocals and there are no drums to be found tying down the sweet strums and far-off melodies present. Could well be Olson bridging the gap between one modus (the band) and another (solo), and if so, fine. One way or the other it’s a strong batch of songs in the drifting western aesthetic he’s established. There’s nothing to say the next record will be the same or will be different. That’s why it’s fun.

Across Tundras on Bandcamp

Eagle Stone Collective on Bandcamp

 

Motorpsycho, The All is One

motorpsycho the all is one

What could possibly be left to say about the brilliance of Trondheim, Norway’s Motorpsycho? One only wishes that The All is One could be blasted into place on a pressed gold vinyl so that any aliens who might encounter it could know that humanity isn’t just all cruelty, plagues and indifference. The prolific heavy prog kingpins’ latest is 84 willfully-unmanageable minutes of graceful and gracious, hyperbole-ready sprawl, tapping into dynamic changes and arrangement depth that is both classic in character and still decidedly forward-thinking. An early rocker “The Same Old Rock (One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy)” and the shuffling “The Magpie” give way after the opener to the quiet “Delusion (The Reign of Humbug)” and the multi-stage “N.O.X.,” which unfolds in five parts, could easily have been an album on its own, and caps with a frenetic mania that is only off-putting because of how controlled it ultimately is. Then they throw in a couple experimental pieces after that between the nine-minute “Dreams of Fancy” and the mellow-vibing “Like Chrome.” Someday archaeologists will dig up the fossils of this civilization and wonder what gods this sect worshipped. Do they have three more records out yet? Probably.

Motorpsycho website

Stickman Records website

 

Dark Buddha Rising, Mathreyata

Dark Buddha Rising Mathreyata

From out of the weirdo hotbed that is Tampere, Finland, Dark Buddha Rising reemerge from the swirling ether with new lessons in black magique for anyone brave enough to be schooled. Mathreyata follows 2018’s II EP but is the band’s first full-length since 2015’s Inversum (review here), and from the initial cosmically expansive lurch of “Sunyaga” through the synth-laced atmosludge roll of “Nagathma” and the seven-minute build-to-abrasion that is “Uni” and the guess-what-now-that-abrasion-pays-off beginning of 15-minute closer “Mahatgata III,” which, yes, hits into some New Wavy guitar just before exploding just after nine minutes in, the band make a ritual pyre of expectation, genre and what one would commonly think of as psychedelia. Some acts are just on their own level, and while Dark Buddha Rising will always be too extreme for some and not everyone’s going to get it, their growing cult can only continue to be enthralled by what they accomplish here.

Dark Buddha Rising on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records website

 

Vine Weevil, Sun in Your Eyes

vine weevil sun in your eyes

Together, brothers Yotam and Itamar Rubinger — guitar/vocals and drums, respectively — comprise London’s Vine Weevil. Issued early in 2020 preceded by a video for “You are the Ocean” (posted here), Sun in Your Eyes is the second album from the brothers, who are also both former members of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, and in the watery title-track and the Beatles-circa-Revolver bounce of “Loose Canon” they bask in a folkish ’60s-style psychedelia, mellotron melodies adding to the classic atmosphere tipped with just an edge of Ween-style weirdness — it’s never so druggy, but that undercurrent is there. “You are the Ocean” hints toward heavy garage, but the acoustic/electric sentimentality of “My Friend” and the patient piano unfurling of “Lord of Flies” ahead of organ-led closer “The Shadow” are more indicative overall of the scope of this engaging, heartfelt and wistful 31-minute offering.

Vine Weevil on Thee Facebooks

Vine Weevil on Bandcamp

 

King Chiefs, Flying into Void

king chiefs flying into void

Since before their coronation — when they were just Chiefs — the greatest strength of San Diego heavy rockers King Chiefs has been their songwriting. They’ve never been an especially flashy band on a technical level, never over the top either direction tempo-wise, but they can write a melody, craft a feel in a three-or-four-minute track and tell any story they want to tell in that time in a way that leaves the listener satisfied. This is not a skill to be overlooked, and though on Flying into Void, the follow-up to 2018’s Blue Sonnet (review here), the album is almost entirely done by guitarist/vocalist Paul ValleJeff Podeszwik adds guitar as well — the energy, spirit and craft that typify King Chiefs‘ work is maintained. Quality heavy built on a foundation of grunge — a ’90s influence acknowledged in the cover art; dig that Super Nintendo — it comes with a full-band feel despite its mostly-solo nature and delivers 37 minutes of absolutely-pretense-free, clearheaded rock and roll. If you can’t get down with that, one seriously doubts that’ll stop King Chiefs anyhow.

King Chiefs on Thee Facebooks

King Chiefs webstore

 

Battle Hag, Celestial Tyrant

battle hag celestial tyrant

How doomed is Battle Hag‘s doom? Well, on Celestial Tyrant, it’s pretty damn doomed. The second long-player from the Sacramento, California-based outfit is comprised of three worth-calling-slabs slabs that run in succession from shortest to longest: “Eleusinian Sacrament” (12:47), “Talus” (13:12) and “Red Giant” (19:15), running a total of 45 minutes. Why yes, it is massive as fuck. The opener brings the first round of lurch and is just a little too filthy to be pure death-doom, despite the rainstorm cued in at its last minute, but “Talus” picks up gradually, hard-hit toms signaling the plod to come with the arrival of the central riff, which shows up sooner or later. Does the timestamp matter as much as the feeling of having your chest caved in? “Talus” hits into a speedier progression as it crosses over its second half, but it’s still raw vocally, and the plod returns at the end — gloriously. At 19 minutes “Red Giant” is also the most dynamic of the three cuts, dropping after its up-front lumber and faster solo section into a quiet stretch before spending the remaining eight minutes devoted to grueling extremity and devolution to low static noise. There’s just enough sludge here to position Battle Hag in a niche between microgenres, and the individuality that results is as weighted as their tones.

Battle Hag on Thee Facebooks

Transylvanian Tapes on Bandcamp

 

Hyde, Hyde

hyde hyde

It might take a few listens to sink in — and hey, it might not — but Parisian trio Hyde are up to some deceptively intricate shenanigans on their self-titled debut LP. On their face, a riff like that of second cut “Black Phillip” or “DWAGB” — on which The Big Lebowski is sampled — aren’t revolutionary, but the atmospheric purpose to which they’re being put is more brooding than the band give themselves credit for. They call it desert-influenced, but languid tempos, gruff vocals coated in echo, spacious guitar and rhythmic largesse all come together to give Hyde‘s Hyde a darker, brooding atmosphere than it might at first seem, and even opener “The Victim” and the penultimate “The Barber of Pitlochry” — the only two songs under five minutes long — manage to dig into this vibe. Of course, the 11-minute closing eponymous track — that is, “Hyde,” by Hyde, on Hyde — goes even further, finding its way into psychedelic meandering after its chugging launch rings out, only to roll heavy in its last push, ending with start-stop thud and a long fade. Worth the effort of engaging on its own level, Hyde‘s first full-length heralds even further growth going forward.

Hyde on Thee Facebooks

Hyde on Bandcamp

 

Faith in Jane, Mother to Earth

Faith in Jane Mother to Earth

Maryland’s best kept secret in heavy rock remain wildly undervalued, but that doesn’t stop power trio Faith in Jane from exploring cosmic existentialism on Mother to Earth even as they likewise broaden the expanse of their grooving, bluesy dynamic. “The Circle” opens in passionate form followed by the crawling launch of “Gone are the Days,” and whether it’s the tempest brought to bear in the instrumental “Weight of a Dream” or the light-stepping jam in the middle of the title-track, the soaring solo from guitarist/vocalist Dan Mize on the subsequent “Nature’s Daughter” or the creeper-chug on “Universal Mind,” the cello guest spot on “Lonesome” and the homage to a party unknown (Chesapeake heavy has had its losses these last few years, to say nothing of anyone’s personal experience) in closer “We’ll Be Missing You,” Mize, bassist Brendan Winston and drummer Alex Llewellyn put on a clinic in vibrancy and showcase the classic-style chemistry that’s made them a treasure of their scene. I still say they need to tour for three years and not look back, but if it’s 56 minutes of new material instead, things could be far worse.

Faith in Jane on Thee Facebooks

Faith in Jane on Bandcamp

 

American Dharma, Cosmosis

American Dharma COSMOSIS

Newcomer four-piece American Dharma want nothing for ambition on their 70-minute debut, Cosmosis, bringing together progressive heavy rock, punk and doom, grunge and hardcore punk, but the Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, outfit are somewhat held back by a rawness of production pulling back from the spaces the songs might otherwise create. A bona fide preach at the outset of “Damaged Coda” is a break early on, but the guitars and bass want low end throughout much of the 14-song proceedings, and the vocals cut through with no problem but are mostly dry even when layered or show the presence of a guest, as on closer “You.” Actually, if you told me the whole thing was recorded live and intended as a live album, I’d believe it, but for a unit who do so well in pulling together elements of different styles in their songwriting and appear to have so much to say, their proggier leanings get lost when they might otherwise be highlighted. Now, it’s a self-released debut coming out during a global pandemic, so there’s context worth remembering, but for as much reach as American Dharma show in their songs, their presentation needs to move into alignment with that.

American Dharma on Thee Facebooks

American Dharma on Bandcamp

 

Hypernaut, Ozymandias

hypernaut ozymandias

Call it a burner, call it a corker, call it whatever you want, I seriously doubt Lima, Peru’s Hypernaut are sticking around to find out how you tag their debut album, Ozymandias. The nine-song/38-minute release pulls from punk with some of its forward-thrusting verses like “(This Is Where I) Draw the Line” or “Cynicism is Self-Harm,” but there’s metal there and in the closing title-cut as well that remains part of the atmosphere no matter how brash it might otherwise get. Spacey melodies, Sabbathian roll on “Multiverse… Battleworld” (“Hole in the Sky” walks by and waves), and a nigh-on-Devo quirk in the rhythm of “Atomic Breath” all bring to mind Iowan outliers Bloodcow, but that’s more likely sonic coincidence than direct influence, and one way or the other, Hypernaut‘s “Ozymandias” sets up a multifaceted push all through its span to its maddening, hypnotic finish, but the real danger of the thing is what this band might do if they continue on this trajectory for a few more records.

Hypernaut on Thee Facebooks

Hypernaut on Bandcamp

 

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King Buffalo: Live at Freak Valley LP Preorders Start Friday

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Working in conjunction with Stickman Records and Rock Freaks Records, Rochester, NY’s King Buffalo will release Live at Freak Valley next month on a variety of 2LP styles. Test pressings, different colors, you know the drill. They’re not doing straight-digital or CD, but if you saw the stream of their set while it was happening at the German Freak Valley Festival last year, you know what you’re getting is a pretty astounding product, and even though the set took place before they released the Dead Star EP (review here) earlier this year, it should make an essential companion to the prior LP, 2018’s Longing to Be the Mountain (review here).

I’d have more to say, but hopefully I’ll be able to review the thing when the time is right.

From the PR wire:

KING BUFFALO LIVE AT FREAK VALLEY

KING BUFFALO – LIVE AT FREAK VALLEY Preorders start THIS FRIDAY 11/20/20 at 12pm EST.

King Buffalo is proud to announce our first ‘Live Album’ will be self-released on 12/11/20 throughout North America and see European issue via Stickman Records and Rock Freaks.

This a One-Time ONLY Pressing. It has been completely remixed and mastered for vinyl, and pressed to a double LP! Live at Freak Valley is a VINLY ONLY release. It will not be available as a CD or digitally (except for the download code that accompanies the vinyl).

“My favorite records have always been Live Albums. There’s something about the vibe that allows musicians to feed off the energy from the crowd and take things to another level. To have one of my favorite performances as a band remixed and mastered and pressed to vinyl is bucket list type stuff. I can’t wait for people to hear it and feel some Live Music again.” – Scott Donaldson (King Buffalo)

PREORDERS: https://kingbuffalo.bigcartel.com/

Live at FV Test Presses – Available this Friday at 12pm EST. Limited to 25, hand numbered, and ship immediately! They include a download code, poly bag, a signed “thank you” from the band, a hand numbered insert, and an exclusive alt art poster.

Live at FV Deluxe Edition – Limited to 250 units and pressed to 12″ Black and Gold Vinyl. The Deluxe Edition includes a polybag, a hand numbered tour poster, tour laminate and a download code. They’ll be shipped mid December.

Live at FV Standard Edition – Limited to 750 units and pressed to 12″ Green Splatter Vinyl. They include a polybag and download code. They’ll be shipped mid December.

kingbuffalo.com
facebook.com/kingbuffaloband
instagram.com/kingbuffaloband
kingbuffalo.bandcamp.com
stickman-records.com
facebook.com/Stickman-Records-1522369868033940
https://www.facebook.com/rockfreaksrecords/
http://www.rockfreaks.de/

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