The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Affordable Buy Papers For College from native English experts. Increase traffic to your website the easy way. Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

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29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

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28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by pay essay uk Where Can I Find Clicking Here thesis phd noise attenuation australia writing essays help Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

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27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Students need help with writing at one point or another. In cases like those, its important to find the source service. Our reviews will help! Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

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26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

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

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

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

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

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

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

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

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

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

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

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

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

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2021

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Quarterly Review: Pallbearer, Fulanno, Spirit Mother, Gevaudan, El Rojo, Witchwood, Gary Lee Conner, Tomorr, Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Karkara

Posted in Reviews on December 24th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

There isn’t enough caffeine in the universe to properly sustain a Quarterly Review, and yet here we are. I’ve been doing this for six years now, and once started I’ve always managed to get through it. This seven-day spectacular hits its halfway point today, which is okay by me. I decided to do this because there was a bunch of stuff I still wanted to consider for my year-end list, which I’d normally post this week. And sure enough, a few more have managed to make the cut from each day. I’ll hope to put the list together in the coming days and get it all posted next week, before the poll results at least. I’m not sure why that matters, but yeah.

Thanks for following along if you have been. Hope you’ve found something worth digging into.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Their best record. I don’t want to hear anymore about their demo, or about 2012’s Sorrow and Extinction (review here) or anything else. This is the album Pallbearer have been driving toward since their outset. It is an amalgam of emotive melody and tonal weight that makes epics of both the 12-minute “Silver Wings” and the four-minute “The Quicksand of Existing” that immediately follows, that hits a morose exploration of self in opener “Forgotten Days” and “Stasis” while engaging in metallic storytelling on “Vengeance and Ruination” and “Rite of Passage,” the latter incorporating classic metal melody in perhaps the broadest reach the band has ever had in that regard. So yeah. Pallbearer don’t have a ‘bad’ record. 2017’s Heartless (review here) was a step forward, to be sure. But Forgotten Days, ironically enough, is the kind of offering on which legacies are built and a touchstone for whatever Pallbearer do from here on out.

Pallbearer on Thee Facebooks

Nuclear Blast website

 

Fulanno, Nadie Está a Salvo del Mal

fulanno Nadie está a salvo del mal

The fog rolls in thick on Argentinian doomers Fulanno‘s second full-length, Nadie Está a Salvo del Mal. The seven-track/42-minute outing launches in post-Electric Wizard fashion, and indeed, the drawling lumber of the Dorset legends is an influence throughout, but by no means the only one the trio of guitarist/vocalist Fila Frutos, bassist Mauro Carosela and drummer Jose A. are under. They cast a doom-for-doomers vibe almost immediately, but as “Fuego en la Cruz” gives way to “Los Elegidos” and “Hombre Muerto,” the sense of going deeper is palpable. Crunching, raw tonality comes across as the clean vocals cut through, and the abiding rawness becomes a part of the aesthetic on “Los Colmillos de Satan,” a turning point ahead of the interlude “Señores de la Necrópolis,” the eight-minute “El Desierto de los Caídos” and the surprisingly resonant closing instrumental “El Libro de los Muertos.” Fulanno are plenty atmospheric when they want to be, and one wonders if that won’t come further forward as their progression continues. Either way, they’ve staked their claim in doom and sound ready to die for the cause.

Fulanno on Thee Facebooks

Forbidden Place Records on Bandcamp

Interstellar Smoke Records on Bandcamp

 

Spirit Mother, Cadets

spirit mother cadets

Preceded by a series of singles over the last couple years, Cadets is the full-length debut from Los Angeles four-piece Spirit Mother, and it packs expanse into deceptively efficient songs, seeming to loll this way and that even as it keeps an underlying forward push. The near-shoegaze vocals do a lot of the work in affecting a mellow-psych vibe, but there’s weight to Spirit Mother‘s “Ether” as well, violin, woven vocal layers, and periodic tempo kicks making songs standout from each other even as “Go Getter” keeps an experimentalist feel and “Premonitions” aces its cosmic-garage driver’s test with absolutely perfect pacing. The ultra-spacey “Shape Shifter I” and more boogie-fied “Shape Shifter II” are clear focal points, but Cadets as a whole is a marked accomplishment, particularly for a first LP, and in style, substance and atmosphere, it brings together rich textures with a laissez-faire spontaneity. The closing instrumental “Bajorek” is only one example among the 10 included tracks of Spirit Mother‘s potential, which is writ large throughout.

Spirit Mother on Thee Facebooks

Spirit Mother on Bandcamp

 

Gévaudan, Iter

gevaudan iter

UK four-piece Gévaudan made their debut in 2019 with Iter, and though I’m late to the party as ever, the five-song/53-minute offering is of marked scope and dynamic. Its soft stretches are barely there, melancholic and searching, and its surges of volume in opener “Dawntreader” are expressive without being overwrought. Not without modern influence from Pallbearer or YOB, etc., Gévaudan‘s honing in on atmospherics helps stand out Iter as the band plod-marches with “The Great Heathen Army” — the most active of inclusions and the centerpiece — en route to “Saints of Blood” (11:54) and closer “Duskwalker” (15:16), the patient dip into extremity of the latter sealing the record’s triumph; those screams feel not like a trick the band kept up their collective sleeve, but a transition earned through the grueling plunge of all the material prior. It’s one for which I’d much rather be late than never.

Gévaudan on Thee Facebooks

Gévaudan website

 

El Rojo, El Diablo Rojo

el rojo el diablo rojo

The burly heavy rock of “South” at the outset of Italian heavy rockers El Rojo‘s El Diablo Rojo doesn’t quite tell the whole tale of the band’s style, but it gives essential clues to their songwriting and abiding burl. Later pieces like the slower-rolling “Ascension” (initially, anyhow) and acoustic-inclusive “Cactus Bloom” effectively build on the foundation of bruiser riffs and vocals, branching out desert-influenced melody and spaciousness instrumentalism even as the not-at-all-slowed-down “When I Slow Down” keeps affairs grounded in their purpose and structure. Riffs are thick and lead the charge on the more straightforward pieces and the seven-minute “Colors” alike as El Rojo attempt not to reinvent heavy or stoner rocks but to find room for themselves within the established tenets of genre. They’ve been around a few years at this point, and there’s still growing to be done, but El Diablo Rojo sounds like the starting point of an engaging progression.

El Rojo on Thee Facebooks

Karma Conspiracy Records website

 

Witchwood, Before the Winter

witchwood before the winter

Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, some Led Zeppelin in “Crazy Little Lover” and a touch of opera on “Nasrid” for good measure, Witchwood‘s 62-minute Before the Winter 2LP may be well on the other side of unmanageable in terms of length, but at least it’s not wasting anyone’s time. Instead, early rockers like “Anthem for a Child” and “A Taste of Winter” and the wah-funked “Feelin'” introduce the elements that will serve as the band’s colorful palette across the whole of the album. And a piece like “No Reason to Cry” becomes a straight-ahead complement to airier material like the not-coincidentally-named “A Crimson Moon” and the winding and woodsy “Hesperus,” which caps the first LP as the 10-minute epic “Slow Colours of Shade” does likewise for the record as a whole, followed by a bonus Marc Bolan cover on the vinyl edition, to really hammer home the band’s love of the heavy ’70s, which is already readily on display in their originals.

Witchwood on Thee Facebooks

Jolly Roger Records website

 

Gary Lee Conner, Revelations in Fuzz

gary lee conner revelations in fuzz

If nothing else, Gary Lee Conner sounds like he probably has an enviable collection of 45s. The delightfully weird former Screaming Trees guitarist offers up 10 fresh delights of ’60s-style garage-psych solo works on the follow-up to 2018’s Unicorn Curry, as Revelations in Fuzz lives up to its title in tone even as cascades of organ and electric piano, sitar and acoustic guitar weave in and out of the proceedings. How no one has paired Conner with Baby Woodrose frontman Uffe Lorenzen for a collaboration is a mystery I can’t hope to solve, but in the swirling and stops of “Cheshire Cat Claws” and the descent of six-minute closer “Colonel Tangerine’s Sapphire Sunshine Dreams,” Conner reaffirms his love of that which is hypnotic and lysergic while hewing to a traditionalism of songwriting that makes cuts like “Vicious and Pretty” as catchy as they are far out. And trust me, they’re plenty far out. Conner is a master of acid rock, pure and simple. And he’s already got a follow-up to this one released, so there.

Gary Lee Conner on Thee Facebooks

Vincebus Eruptum Recordings website

 

Tomorr, Tomorr

tomorr tomorr

Formed in Italy with Albanian roots, Tomorr position themselves as rural doom, which to an American reader will sound like ‘country,’ but that’s not what’s happening here. Instead, three-piece are attempting to capture a raw, village-minded sound, with purposeful homage to the places outside the cities of Europe made into sludge riffing and the significant, angular lumber of “Grazing Land.” I’m not sure it works all the time — the riff in the second half of “Varr” calls to mind “Dopesmoker” more than anti-urbane sensibilities, and wants nothing for crush — but as it’s their debut, Tomorr deserve credit for approaching doom from an individualized mindset, and the bulk of the six-song/48-minute offering does boast a sound that is on the way to being the band’s own, if not already there. There’s room for incorporating folk progressions and instrumentation if Tomorr want to go that route, but something about the raw approach they have on their self-titled is satisfying on its own level — a meeting of impulses creative and destructive at some lost dirt crossroads.

Tomorr on Thee Facebooks

Acid Cosmonaut Records on Bandcamp

 

Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide

temple of the fuzz witch red tide

Well what the hell do you think Temple of the Fuzz Witch sounds like? They’re heavy as shit. Of course they are. The Detroiters heralded doomly procession on their 2019 self-titled demo/EP (review here), and the subsequent debut full-length Red Tide, is righteously plodding riffery, Sabbathian without just being the riff to “Electric Funeral” and oblivion-bound nod that’s so filled with smoke it’s practically coughing. What goes on behind the doors of the Temple? Volume, kid. Give me the chug of “The Others” any and every day of the week, I don’t give a fuck if Temple of the Fuzz Witch are reinventing the wheel or not. All I wanna do is put on “Ungoliant” and nod out to the riff that sounds like “The Chosen Few” and be left in peace. Fuck you man. I ain’t bothering anyone. You’re the one with the problem, not me. This guy knows what I’m talking about. Side B of this record will eat your fucking soul, but only after side A has tenderized the meat. Hyperbole? Fuck you.

Temple of the Fuzz Witch on Thee Facebooks

Interstellar Smoke Records webstore

 

Karkara, Nowhere Land

karkara nowhere land

Rife with adventurous and Middle Eastern-inflected heavy psychedelia, Nowhere Land is the follow-up to Toulouse, France-based Karkara‘s 2019 debut, Crystal Gazer (review here), and it finds the three-piece pushing accordingly into broader spaces of guitar-led freakery. Would you imagine a song called “Space Caravan” has an open vibe? You’d be correct. Same goes for “People of Nowhere Land,” which even unto its drum beat feels like some kind of folk dance turned fuzz-drenched lysergic excursion. The closing pair of “Cards” and “Witch” feel purposefully teamed up to round out the 36-minute outing, but maybe that’s just the overarching ethereal nature of the release as a whole coming through as Karkara manage to transport their listener from this place to somewhere far more liquid, languid, and encompassing, full of winding motion in “Falling Gods” and graceful post-grunge drift in “Setting Sun.”

Karkara on Thee Facebooks

Stolen Body Records website

 

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Karkara Announce Nowhere Land Due Nov. 23; New Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 9th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

karkara

Preorders are up now through Stolen Body Records, the band directly and Ghost Lizard Diffusion for the second album from Toulouse, France-based heavy psych rockers Karkara. Titled Nowhere Land and reportedly composed while touring to support their 2019 debut, Crystal Gazer (review here), the record has already sold through a significant portion of its initial pressing. Karkara‘s Bandcamp page as of this writing has just 32 copies of its 300 total still available, so it seems fair to expect those might go before, say, the next two and a half months are done.

All the better for the band, then. They’re streaming a new video for “Falling Gods” that finds them out among sand dunes pulling together a Middle Eastern-inflected blend of progressive and heavy riffing, guitarist Karim Rihani and drummer Maxime Marouani splitting vocal duties between the verses and chorus. Everything would seem to be in good order following up on the debut, in other words.

Clip is at the bottom here. You’ll also see preorder links on your way down. Stolen Body posted the following:

karkara nowhere land

Karkara – Nowhere Land

A deafening echo that suddenly speaks out of the dust, conveying all the desolation of an endless landscape up to the sky. A journey for those who like exotic rock to sound viscerally loud, raw and high gained. To blow up the speakers for good. Fuzzed guitar and Buzzing didgeridoo locked with a sped up drums and cranked bass sound that makes you feel like you are riding a spacecraft at full speed between the dunes.

KARKARA’s second album, “Nowhere land” explores the mysteries of the unknown lands. An album that drags the comfort out of your zone and creates an eerie space of atmospheric low-end and sneering highs.

7 tracks that take a further step into a dark and mystical world. This album is a straight continuity of ‘Crystal Gazer’. The second chapter of a journey made by a traveler who discovers new lands and mysterious people. Written during Crystal Gazer’s tours, among long rides between gigs and rehearsals in south France. Recorded in Toulouse at SwampLand studio and using only analog equipements to add that raw Lo-fi flavor they love.

Created in 2017 in Toulouse, France, the threesome takes inspiration among different rock genre, from the sweet middle eastern psychedelic rock to the raw shattering sounds of garage fuzz and german krautrock.

Even going so far as to use their favourite atypical instrument – the didgeridoo – the three members of KARKARA, like desert wizards, take pleasure in pushing further the boundaries of the genre and take their audience into a mystical and indomitable world.

TRACK LIST :
01. Deliverance (5:46)
02. Space Caravan (6:24)
03. Falling Gods (3:55)
04. People Of Nowhere land (6:04)

05. Setting Sun (4:14)
06. Cards (4:30)
07. Witch (5:33)

Preorders:
https://karkara.bandcamp.com/
https://bit.ly/337wgrp

Artwork by Dead Flag Studios

KARKARA is:
Karim Rihani – guitar / didgeridoo / vocals
Hugo Olive – bass
Maxime Marouani – drums / vocals

https://www.facebook.com/karkararock/
https://www.instagram.com/karkara_band/
https://karkara.bandcamp.com/
https://stolenbodyrecords.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/stolenbodyrecords/
https://www.instagram.com/stolenbodyrecords/
https://www.facebook.com/Ghost-Lizard-Diffusion-1003831926422650/

Karkara, “Falling Gods” official video

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Quarterly Review: Paradise Lost, Vinnum Sabbathi, Nighthawk, Familiars, Mountain Witch, Disastroid, Stonegrass, Jointhugger, Little Albert, Parahelio

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

the-obelisk-qr-summer-2020

Last day, you know the drill. It’s been a pleasure, honestly. If every Quarterly Review could feature the quality of material this one has, I’d probably only spend a fraction of the amount of time I do fretting over it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and enjoyed the music as much as I have. If you haven’t found something here to sit with and dig into yet, well, today’s 10 more chances to do just that. Maybe something will stick at last.

See you in September.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Paradise Lost, Obsidian

paradise lost obsidian

It is impossible to listen to Obsidian and consider Paradise Lost as anything other than masters of the form. Of course, that they were one of the original pioneers of gothic death-doom helps, but even in the decade-plus since they began to shift back toward a more metallic approach, they have established a standard that is entirely their own. Obsidian collects nine tracks across a palatable 45 minutes, and if the hook of “Fall From Grace” is fan-service on the part of the band, then it is no less righteous for that. In atmosphere and aggression, cuts like “The Devil Embraced” and the galloping “Ghosts” deliver on high expectations coming off 2017’s Medusa (review here), even as side B’s “Ending Days” and “Hope Dies Young” branch into a more melodic focus, not departing from the weight of impact presented earlier, but clearly adjusting the approach, leading to an all the more deathly return on “Ravenghast,” which closes out. Their doom remains second to none; their model remains one to follow.

Paradise Lost on Thee Facebooks

Nuclear Blast webstore

 

Vinnum Sabbathi, Of Dimensions and Theories

Vinnum Sabbathi Of Dimensions and Theories

The narrative thread carried through the six tracks of Vinnum Sabbathi‘s Of Dimensions and Theories is a futuristic sci-fi tale about humanity’s first foray into deep space amid a chaos of environmental collapse and nuclear threat. The real story, however, is the sense of progression the instrumentalist Mexico City outfit bring in following up their debut LP, 2017’s Gravity Works (review here). Tying thematically to the latest Cegvera album — the two bands share personnel — pieces at the outset like “In Search of M-Theory” and “Quantum Determinism” maintain the exploratory vibe of the band’s jammier works in their “HEX” series, but through spoken samples give a human presence and plotline to the alternately atmospheric and lumbering tones. As the record progresses through the airier “An Appraisal” and the feedback-drenched “Beyond Perturbative States,” their dynamic finds realization in “A Superstring Revolution I” and the drum-led “A Superstring Revolution II.” I don’t know about humanity’s prospects as a whole, but Vinnum Sabbathi‘s remain bright.

Vinnum Sabbathi on Thee Facebooks

Stolen Body Records website

 

Nighthawk, The Sea Legs EP

Nighthawk The Sea Legs EP

Composed as a solo outing prior to the founding of Heavy Temple, the Nighthawk solo endeavor (presumably she wasn’t a High Priestess yet), The Sea Legs EP, is plenty self-aware in its title, but for being a raw execution of material written performed entirely on her own, its four tracks also have a pretty significant scope, from the post-QOTSA heavy pop of “Goddamn” leading off through the quick spacegaze of “I’m From Tennessee Woman, All We Do is Honky Tonk,” into the deceptively spacious “I Can Haz” with its far-back toms, dreamy vocal melody and vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding guitar, and ending with the if-Ween‘s-country-album-had-been-weirder finish of “Stay Gold.” Nighthawk has issued a follow-up to The Sea Legs EP in the full-length Goblin/John Carpenter-style synth of The Dimensionaut, but given the range and balance she shows just in this brief 12 minutes, one hopes that indeed her songwriting explorations continue to prove so multifaceted.

Nighthawk on Bandcamp

Heavy Temple on Thee Facebooks

 

Familiars, All in Good Time

familiars all in good time

Contending for one of the year’s best debut albums, FamiliarsAll in Good Time offers eight songs across 43 minutes that blend organic-feeling grit with more ethereal, landscape-evocative psychedelics. The Ontario three-piece have a few singles to their credit, but the lushness of “Rocky Roost” and the emergent heft of “Barn Burning,” the fleshy boogie of “The Dirty Dog Saloon” and the breadth of “Avro Arrow” speak not just to Familiars‘ ability to capture a largesse that draws their songs together, or the nuance that lets them brings subtle touches of Americana (Canadiana?) early on and echoing desert roll to the fuzzy “The Common Loon,” but also to the songwriting that makes these songs stand out so much as they do and the sense of purpose Familiars bring to All in Good Time as their first long-player. That turns out to be one of the most encouraging aspects of the release, but in that regard there’s plenty of competition from elements like tone, rhythm, melody, craft, performance — so yes, basically all of it.

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Familiars on Bandcamp

 

Mountain Witch, Extinct Cults

Mountain Witch Extinct Cults

Mountain Witch‘s fourth album, Extinct Cults, brings the Hamburg-based duo of guitarist René Sitte and drummer/vocalist René Roggmann back after a four-year absence with a collection that straddles the various lines between classic heavy rock, proto-metal, ’70s heavy prog and modern cultism. Their loyalties aren’t necessarily all to the 1968-’74 period, as the chug and gruff vocals of “Back From the Grave” show, but the post Technical Ecstasy sway of the title-track is a fascinating and rarely-captured specificity, and the vocal melodies expressed in layers across the record do much to add personality and depth to the arrangements while the surrounding recording remains essentially raw. No doubt vinyl-minded, Extinct Cults is relatively brief at six songs and 33 minutes, but the Priestly chug of “Man is Wolf to Man” and the engrossing garage doom of closer “The Devil Probably” offer plenty of fodder for those who’d dig in to dig into. It is a sound familiar and individual at once, old and new, and it revels in making cohesion out of such contrasts.

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This Charming Man Records website

 

Disastroid, Mortal Fools

disastroid mortal fools

You might find San Francisco trio Disastroid hanging out at the corner of noise and heavy rock, looking disreputable. Their first record for Heavy Psych Sounds is Mortal Fools, and to go with its essential-bloody-essential bass tone and melodic semi-shouted vocals, it brings hints of angularity rounded out by tonal thickness and a smoothness between transitions that extends to the flow from one song to the next. While for sure a collection of individual pieces, Mortal Fools does move through its 43 minutes with remarkable ease, the sure hand of the three-piece guides you through the otherwise willfully tumultuous course, brash in the guitar and bass and drums but immersive in the overarching groove. They seem to save a particular melodic highlight for the verses of closer “Space Rodent,” but really, whether it’s the lumbering “Hopeless” or the sharper-toothed push of “Bilge,” the highlight is what Disastroid accomplish over the course of the record as a whole. Plus that friggin’ bass sound.

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Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Stonegrass, Stonegrass

stonegrass self titled

I don’t know when this was first released, but the 2020 edition seems to be a remaster, and whenever it first came out, I’m pleased to have the chance to check it out now. Toronto duo Stonegrass brings together Matthew “Doc” Dunn and Jay Anderson, both of a markedly psyched-out pedigree, to dig into experimentalist acid-psych that pushes boundaries stylistic and national, tapping Afrobeat vibes with closer “Drive On” and the earlier 13-minute go-go-go jam “Tea” while “The Highway” feels like a lost psychedelic disco-funk 45, “The Cape” drones like it’s waiting for someone to start reading poetry over-top, and mellow hand-percussion and Turkish psych on centerpiece “Frozen Dunes.” The whole thing, which runs a manageable 39 minutes, is as cool as the day is long, and comes across like a gift to those of expanded mind or who are willing to join those ranks. I don’t know if it’s new or old. I don’t know if it’s a one-off or an ongoing project. I barely know if it’s actually out. But hot damn it’s rad, and if you can catch it, you should.

Cosmic Range Records on YouTube

Cosmic Range Records on Bandcamp

 

Jointhugger, I Am No One

jointhugger i am no one

Norwegian half-instrumental trio Jointhugger have already captured the attention of both Interstellar Smoke Records and Ozium Records with their four-song debut long-player, I Am No One, and as the follow-up to their 2019 Daemo, it leaves little question why. The more volume, the merrier, when it comes to the rolling, nodding, undulations of riff the band conjure, as each member seems geared toward bringing as much weight to bear as much as possible. I’m serious. Even the hi-hat is heavy, never mind the guitar or bass or the cave-echoing vocals of the title-track. “Domen” slips into some shuffle — if you can call something that dense-sounding a shuffle — and underscores its solo with an entire bog’s worth of low end, and though closer “Nightfright” is the only inclusion that actually tops 10 minutes, it communicates an intensity of crush that is nothing if not consistent with what’s come before. There are flashes of letup here and there, but it’s impact at the core of Jointhugger‘s approach, and they offer plenty of it. Don’t be surprised when the CD and LP sell through, and don’t be surprised if they get re-pressed later.

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Ozium Records webstore

Interstellar Smoke Records webstore

 

Little Albert, Swamp King

Little Albert Swamp King

Stepping out both in terms of style and substance from his position as guitarist in atmospheric doomers Messa, Little Albert — aka Alberto Piccolo — pronounces himself “swamp king” in the opening lines of his debut solo release of the same name, and the mellow ambiance and psychedelic flourish of tone in “Bridge of Sighs” and “Mean Old Woman” and the aptly-titled “Blues Asteroid” offer an individualized blend of psychedelic blues that seems to delight in tipping the balance back and forth from one to the other while likewise taking the songs through full band arrangements and more intimate wanderings. Some of the songs have a tendency to roll outward and not return, as does “Mary Claire” or “Mean Old Woman,” but “Outside Woman Blues” and the closer “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” hold tighter to the ground than some of what surrounds, so again, there’s a balance. Plus, as mellow as Swamp King is in its overarching affect, it’s neither difficult nor anything but a pleasure to follow along where Piccolo leads. If that’s off the psych-blues deep end, so be it. Only issue I take with him being king of the swamp is that the album’s domain hardly seems so limited.

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Aural Music on Bandcamp

 

Parahelio, Surge Evelia, Surge

Parahelio Surge Evelia Surge

Beautiful, patient and pastoral psychedelia fleshes out across the three tracks of Parahelio‘s debut full-length, Surge Evelia, Surge. Issued on vinyl through Necio Records, the three-song offering reportedly pays homage to a mining town in the band’s native Peru, but it does so with a breadth that seems to cover so much between heavy post-rock and psych that it’s difficult not to imagine places decidedly more ethereal. Beginning with its title-track (12:33) and moving into the swells and recessions of “Gestos y Distancia,” the album builds to an encompassing payoff for side A before unveiling “Ha’Adam,” a 23-minute side-consuming rollout that encompasses not only soundscaping, but a richly human feel in its later take, solidifying around a drum march and a heavy build of guitar that shouldn’t sound strange to fans of Pelican or Russian Circles yet manages somehow to transcend the hypnotic in favor of the dynamic, the immersive, and again, the beautiful. What follows is desolation and aftermath, and that’s how the record ends, but even there, the textures and the spirit of the release remain central. I always do myself a favor with the last release of any Quarterly Review, and this is no exception.

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Necio Records on Bandcamp

 

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Slift Post “Lions, Tigers & Bears” Live Video; Ummon to See US Release

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 18th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

slift (Photo by Rabo)

Let’s face it, rhythmic tension has been a getoff for freaks looking to shake ass since the first caveweirdos started banging on the walls. Is what French heavy psych trio Slift bring to the space-surf boogie of the 16-minute “Lions, Tigers & Bears” any different? Well, it’s got reverb, if that’s what you mean. One way or the other, the shouts of its verse capture a proto-punk freedom amid all that urgent swirl, and the band indeed get the crowd — and the camera — moving in the new video, all vim, vigor, piss, vinegar, and direct-to-the-cortex vibe. Hey man, you wanna be special? This shit’ll make you special.

Slift released their oh-my-thank-you-very-much full-length, Ummon (review here), through Stolen Body Records and Vicious Circle Records in the just-pre-global pandemic early going of winter 2020, and “Lions, Tigers & Bears” is the lengthy closer of that substantial offering at 13 minutes in its studio version. The live take featured in the video below — recorded in the trio’s native Toulouse — on March 7, which was not a week before France went on lockdown owing to COVID-19. It’s safe to assume that, for many if not most in the crowd, this was the last show they attended before entering the world of banned-mass-gatherings, social-distancing, and hoarding toilet paper that marked this demented Spring.

Is that a lurking sense of doom in the high contrast black and white shuffle? An extra note of panic in the flashing lights I detect? Certainly these things are easy to read in retroactively — Slift powercharging through one last get-out before humanity hunkers down for months to watch waves of infections scroll by in unfathomable statistics. Europe is reopening now, tour dates being announced for the Fall. Is it wishful thinking? How much is lost? Shit if I know.

But hey, Ummon‘s gonna hit US shores this month, with Vicious Circle handling the North American release. Dig the tension ahead of time and have fun trying to get your head around it. Maybe you’ll get there. Maybe we all will.

Enjoy:

Slift, “Lions, Tigers & Bears” live video

French space psych trio SLIFT are about to release their new full-length ‘Ummon’ across the Atlantic Ocean this June via Vicious Circle.

Heaviness, riffs, psychedelic, science-fiction… SLIFT’s progressive sound is a colourful and legendary journey to the edge of kraut and stoner rock. The live video “Lions, Tigers & Bears” highlights the band’s magnetic creativity as well as powerful and unearthly jams. Recorded at Mix’art Myrys in Toulouse, France on March 7th 2020. A video by Jeff Morlais.

From the many shows performed across Europe – sharing the stage with Jon Spencer, DeWolff or Mars Red Sky – to the KEXP session (recorded in December 2019 during Les Trans’ Musicales), the French trio launched an outstanding astral adventure. Their latest record ‘Ummon’ is a space odyssey about Titans, blending acid krautrock, cosmic jazz and powerful heavy saturated guitars. Out since February 2020 in Europe, the double LP is coming out this June for the very first time in the USA! More details soon.

In February 2020, SLIFT released their double LP ‘Ummon’. Delivered through Vicious Circle Records (France) and Stolen Body Records (UK), the album is coming out in the USA this June. Stay tuned!

SLIFT are:
Jean Fossat : guitar, vocals, synth
Rémi Fossat : bass
Canek Flores : drums

Slift, Ummon (2020)

Slift on Thee Facebooks

Slift on Bandcamp

Stolen Body Records store

Vicious Circle Records store

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Days of Rona: Gerardo Arias of Cegvera and Vinnum Sabbathi

Posted in Features on April 13th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The statistics of COVID-19 change with every news cycle, and with growing numbers, stay-at-home isolation and a near-universal disruption to society on a global scale, it is ever more important to consider the human aspect of this coronavirus. Amid the sad surrealism of living through social distancing, quarantines and bans on gatherings of groups of any size, creative professionals — artists, musicians, promoters, club owners, techs, producers, and more — are seeing an effect like nothing witnessed in the last century, and as humanity as a whole deals with this calamity, some perspective on who, what, where, when and how we’re all getting through is a needed reminder of why we’re doing so in the first place.

Thus, Days of Rona, in some attempt to help document the state of things as they are now, both so help can be asked for and given where needed, and so that when this is over it can be remembered.

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

cegvera gerardo arias

Days of Rona: Gerardo Arias of Cegvera & Vinnum Sabbathi (Chapingo, Mexico)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band? Have you had to rework plans at all? How is everyone’s health so far?

Despite playing in the same band Vinnum Sabbathi (Juan, Roman and Sam) and Cegvera (Matt), we are all close friends. Though we cannot even practice as a band, we are always in close contact through social media. That is clearly helping everyone out. There is not much we could do as a band but to promote our recent releases again through social media (VS – Of Dimensions and Theories; CGV – The Sixth Glare). As a musician, I have also been writing new riffs (more laid back than I normally like playing them) and that is because I think that’s what I need right now, to remain positive in the middle of this havoc, ’cause it has already taken few things down. Also I have been working on some papers left from my degree, which I hope to finish and publish before this year.

Both bands already had big summer plans including some festivals as well as a tour of 30+ dates in EU and UK. All of it had to be postponed. In Mexico, Vinnum Sabbathi had scheduled a release party for the 4th of April in Mexico City. That one had to be postponed too. From afar, one might think it is easy task to set up a tour. But I have been working on this with my mate Juan for MONTHS. It ain’t easy. We were all looking forward to it so much, cause that would mean not only playing gigs, but also to visit all the friends that we have made along the way. It is really sad to see all of it vanishing so fast. We know that it will happen, we don’t know yet if later in the year or summer next year, but we know that it will definitely happen and that’s what keeps us up. Eternally grateful to all the people that have supported us during this crisis and full of joy to see that they are enjoying themselves with the music that we have recently released. At the same time, a little bit intrigued to see how the current global situation matches largely with the story that is narrated in both releases TSG and ODAT.

Feel really fortunate to say that everyone’s health is very good so far. Roman (VS) has already been sent home to do work from there, while Sam (VS) is still going to his job as the place where he works for hasn’t closed yet. Juan (VS) is crafting guitar cabs from home (The best guitar and bass cabs around – Tamayo amp). Jumping all the way to UK, Matt (CGV) has been sent back home as the place where he was working has already shut down. I was working in a vet clinic, but had to suspend activities already (the clinic is still working though). Luckily I have the support of my family and right now I am with them during the quarantine.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

Although the situation in Mexico is not as bad as in some other countries, there has been a swift response in terms of isolation rules. For example, all academic activities at all levels have been suspended since the 20th of March till the 20th of April. Also, in drug stores you are not allowed to do bulk shopping. Some people have already been sent back to their homes from their jobs. Some others, not as lucky, have already lost their jobs. Where I live right now (Chapingo, Mexico) there is a truck driving through the streets with a megaphone saying: “Please stay at home, do not expose yourself. Please stay at home.” Feels like if we were living in a dystopian fiction. The truth is that, mostly in developing countries like Mexico, it is nearly impossible for some people to stay at home. Especially people that live from hand-to-mouth. Whenever there is a chance always try to offer them some help or even supplies.

Spoke to Matt (CGV) about the UK rules, and apparently up there they are only allowed to leave home, only for food shopping or pharmacies. Everything is closed and the streets are empty. It was meant to be only for a couple more weeks but probably gonna be a few months like this sadly.

How have you seen the virus affecting the community around you and in music?

I think this has already pretty much affected everyone in the scene and outside: Labels, musicians, venues, promoters, graphic artists and even the audience in general. Local shows cancelled, venues shutting down, cancelled or postponed tours and, sadly, I’ve seen people getting annoyed about all these imminent cancellations.

Not everything is gloom though. I’ve seen that artists haven’t surrendered and are striking back with incredible livestream performances. Take as an example Mike Scheidt (Yob), Kadavar or the good pals from Kurokuma. This is really inspiring and I think artists should try and cheer up the scene with ideas like this one, of course if there is the chance and the resource. I really hope we do one with Vinnum in a near future.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

Don’t surrender to panic and/or depression, be patient, keep the spirits up. Everyone has been affected already. Always keep it positive. After I was away for four years from my family and bandmates to finish a degree, I am really close to them again. The only thing for me to do is to chin up, tell them how much I missed them and how happy I am to have them close when all this mess is happening. Keep in touch with your close friends/family. Personally, I always find myself with a giant smile on my face whenever a friend from abroad reaches out.

Support your artists, the best way to do it is buying them music and merch. You think buying a digital record does not make a difference, but trust me it does (BANDCAMP, please Bandcamp – Not Spotify!). At the same time think about the people around you. Today, actually, a guy emailed us asking if he could buy a record through Bandcamp, but kindly asked us to save it for him until the storm calms down, that way we reduce the exposure of the social workers. These ideas will definitely make a great difference. Encourage your favourite artists to do livestreams! A band always cheer up whenever we see people wanting to see us playing music even through a monitor. If you have a lot of spare time then it is the moment for your ears to give a chance to listen to that one local band that you never really wanted to check out. You might be surprised by it!

Protect the ones yourself and the ones you love, follow the sanitary indications. This is not a fake situation. It has been proved scientifically that the virus is not lab-made or genetically manipulated (type and search in your browser ‘Andersen 2020 nature medicine’ if you want to know more about it). Try to keep it as local as you can, specially providing support to small shops and producers in your area. And again, please don’t panic. ALWAYS verify the source of information! We are a society that is incredibly vulnerable to mediatic manipulation, specially with all this flood of fake news around us. Always double-check where the information is coming from.

CHIN UP, KEEP THE SPIRITS UP!

https://www.facebook.com/cegueraUK
https://cegvera.bandcamp.com/
www.facebook.com/VinnumSabbathi/
https://vinnumsabbathi.bandcamp.com/
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Days of Rona: Juan Alberto Tamayo of Vinnum Sabbathi

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

The statistics of COVID-19 change with every news cycle, and with growing numbers, stay-at-home isolation and a near-universal disruption to society on a global scale, it is ever more important to consider the human aspect of this coronavirus. Amid the sad surrealism of living through social distancing, quarantines and bans on gatherings of groups of any size, creative professionals — artists, musicians, promoters, club owners, techs, producers, and more — are seeing an effect like nothing witnessed in the last century, and as humanity as a whole deals with this calamity, some perspective on who, what, where, when and how we’re all getting through is a needed reminder of why we’re doing so in the first place.

Thus, Days of Rona, in some attempt to help document the state of things as they are now, both so help can be asked for and given where needed, and so that when this is over it can be remembered.

Thanks to all who participate. — JJ Koczan

Vinnum Sabbathi juan alberto tamayo

Days of Rona: Juan Alberto Tamayo of Vinnum Sabbathi (Mexico City, Mexico)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band? Have you had to rework plans at all? How is everyone’s health so far?

Like a lot of other bands, we had no choice but to stop all our plans for this year which included a 3-month Euro tour that’s gone by now, but we’ll try to make it happen when the situation gets better. Everyone is healthy, we stopped rehearsals to stay home with our families.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

On March 20th our government closed schools for 20 days as well as the US border for non-essential operations and now they told everyone to stay home as much as possible, but to be honest some people around just don’t care. There was a huge party last night nearby my home. People think this is just a conspiracy of some kind and that’s scary because we don’t have anything near the health systems from the US or Europe so if this goes out of hand it’ll be Mad Max around here quick.

How have you seen the virus affecting the community around you and in music?

Like everywhere, this has affected local venues and businesses, after the pandemic situation exploded the US dollar skyrocketed for us and seems like it’s not going to go down soon. Some big music festivals had to cancel, but others like Vive Latino took place just a few weeks ago like nothing happened.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

We’ll see you on a show near you after this, but now look after the ones you care, don’t be a dick and help others when you can.

www.facebook.com/VinnumSabbathi/
https://vinnumsabbathi.bandcamp.com/
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Quarterly Review: Slift, IIVII, Coogans Bluff, Rough Spells, Goblinsmoker, Homecoming, Lemurian Folk Songs, Ritual King, Sunflowers, Maya Mountains

Posted in Reviews on March 26th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Thursday. Everyone doing well? Healthy? Kicking ass? Working from home? There seems to be a lot of that going around, at least among the lucky. New Jersey, where I live, is on lockdown with non-essential businesses shuttered, roads largely empty and all that. It can be grim and apocalyptic feeling, but I’m finding this Quarterly Review to be pretty therapeutic or at least helpfully distracting at a moment when I very much need something to be that. I hope that if you’re reading this, whether you’ve been following along or not, it’s done or can do the same for you if that’s what you need. I’ll leave it at that.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

The second album from French space/psych trio Slift is a 72-minute blowout echoshred epic — too aware not to be prog but too cosmic not to be space rock. Delivered through Stolen Body Records and Vicious Circle, Ummon is not only long, it speaks to a longer term. It’s not an album for this year, or for this decade, or for any other decade, for that matter. It’s for the ongoing fluid now. You want to lose yourself in the depths of buzz and dreamy synth? Yeah, you can do that. You want to dig into the underlying punk and maybe a bit of Elder influence in the vocal bark and lead guitar shimmer of “Thousand Helmets of Gold?” Well hell’s bells, do that. The mega-sprawling 2LP is a gorgeous blast of distortion, backed by jazzy, organic drum wud-dum-tap and the bass, oh, the bass; the stuff of low end sensory displacement. Amid swirls and casts of melodic light in “Dark Was Space, Cold Were the Stars,” Slift dilate universal energy and push beyond the noise wash reaches of “Son Dong’s Cavern” and through the final build, liftoff and roll of 13-minute closer “Lions, Tigers and Bears” with the deft touch of those dancing on prior conceptions. We’d be lucky to have Ummon as the shape of space rock to come.

Slift on Thee Facebooks

Stolen Body Records store

Vicious Circle Records store

 

IIVII, Grinding Teeth/Zero Sleep

Two LPs telling two different stories released at the same time, Grinding Teeth/Zero Sleep (on Consouling Sounds) brings Josh Graham‘s aural storytelling to new cinematic reaches. The composer, guitarist, synthesist, programmer, visual artist, etc., is joined along the way by the likes of Jo Quail, Ben Weinman (ex-The Dillinger Escape Plan), Dana Schecter (Insect Ark), Sarah Pendleton (ex-SubRosa) and Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) — among others — but across about 90 minutes of fluidity, Graham/IIVII soundtracks two narratives through alternatingly vast and crushing drone. The latter work is actually an adaptation from a short sci-fi film about, yes, humanity losing its ability to sleep — I feel you on that one — but the former, which tells a kind of meth-fueled story of love and death, brings due chaos and heft to go with its massive synthesized scope. Josh Graham wants to score your movie. You should let him. And you should pay him well. And you should let him design the poster. And you should pay him well for that too. End of story.

IIVII on Thee Facebooks

Consouling Sounds store

 

Coogans Bluff, Metronopolis

coogans bluff metronopolis

Following the initial sax-laden prog-rock burst and chase that is opener “Gadfly,” Berlin’s Coogans Bluff bring a ’70s pastoralia to “Sincerely Yours,” and that atmosphere ends up staying with Metronopolis — their fifth album — for the duration, no matter where else they might steer the sound. And they do steer the sound. Sax returns (as it will) in the jabbing “Zephyr,” a manic shred taking hold in the second half accompanied by no-less-manic bass, and “Creature of the Light” reimagines pop rock of the original vinyl era in the image of its own weirdness, undeniably rock but also something more. Organ-inclusive highlight “Soft Focus” doesn’t so much touch on psychedelics as dunk its head under their warm waters, and “The Turn I” brings an almost Beatlesian horn arrangement to fruition ahead of the closer “The Turn II.” But in that finale, and in “Hit and Run,” and way back in “Sincerely Yours,” Coogans Bluff hold that Southern-style in their back pocket as one of several of Metronopolis‘ recurring themes, and it becomes one more element among the many at their disposal.

Coogans Bluff on Thee Facebooks

Noisolution store

 

Rough Spells, Ruins at Midday

rough spells ruins at midday

An underlying current of social commentary comes coated in Rough Spells‘ mysticism on Ruins at Midday, the Toronto unit’s second LP. Recorded by Ian Blurton and presented by Fuzzed and Buzzed and DHU Records, the eight-track LP has, as the lyrics of “Chance Magic” say, “No bad intentions.” Indeed, it seems geared only toward eliciting your participation in its ceremony of classic groove, hooks and melodies, even the mellow “Die Before You Die” presenting an atmosphere that’s heavy but still melodic and accessible. “Grise Fiord” addresses Canada’s history of mistreating its native population, while “Pay Your Dues” pits guitar and vocal harmonics against each other in a shove of proto-metallic energy to rush momentum through side B and into the closing pair of the swaggering “Nothing Left” and the title-track, which is the longest single cut at five minutes, but still keeps its songwriting taut with no time to spare for indulgences. In this, and on several fronts, Ruins at Midday basks in multifaceted righteousness.

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Fuzzed and Buzzed store

DHU Records store

 

Goblinsmoker, A Throne in Haze, A World Ablaze

goblinsmoker a throne in haze a world ablaze

Upside the head extreme sludgeoning! UK trio Goblinsmoker take on the more vicious and brutal end of sludge with the stench of death on A Throne in Haze, A World Ablaze (on Sludgelord Records), calling to mind the weedian punishment of Belzebong and others of their decrepit ilk. Offered as part two of a trilogy, A Throne in Haze, A World Ablaze is comprised of three tracks running a caustic 26 minutes thick enough such that even its faster parts feel slow, a churning volatility coming to the crash of “Smoked in Darkness” at the outset only to grow more menacing in the lurch of centerpiece “Let Them Rot” — which of course shifts into blastbeats later on — and falling apart into noise and echoing residual feedback after the last crashes of “The Forest Mourns” recede. Beautifully disgusting, the release reportedly furthers the story of the Toad King depicted on its cover and for which the band’s prior 2018 EP was named, and so be it. The lyrics, largely indecipherable in screams, are vague enough that if you’re not caught up, you’ll be fine. Except you won’t be fine. You’ll be dead. But it’ll be awesome.

Goblinsmoker on Thee Facebooks

Sludgelord Records on Bandcamp

 

Homecoming, LP01

homecoming lp01

Progressive metal underpins French trio Homecoming‘s aptly-titled first record, LP01, with the guitars of second cut “Rivers of Crystal” leading the way through a meandering quiet part and subsequent rhythmic figure that reminds of later Opeth, though there’s still a strong heavy rock presence in their tones and grooves generally. It’s an interesting combination, and all the more so because I think part of what’s giving off such a metal vibe is the snare sound. You don’t normally think of a snare drum determining that kind of thing, but here we are. Certainly the vocal arrangements between gruff melodies, backing screams and growls, etc., the odd bit of blastbeating here and there, bring it all into line as well — LP01 is very much the kind of album that would title its six-minute instrumental centerpiece “Interlude” — but the intricacy in how the nine-minute “Return” develops and the harmonies that emerge early in closer “Five” tell the tale clearly of Homecoming‘s ambitions as they move forward from this already-ambitious debut.

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Homecoming on Bandcamp

 

Lemurian Folk Songs, Logos

lemurian folk songs logos

Tracked in the same sessions as the Budapest outfit’s 2019 album, Ima (review here), it should not come as a major surprise that the six-track/49-minute Logos from Lemurian Folk Songs follows a not entirely dissimilar course, bringing together dream-drift of tones and melodies with subtle but coherent rhythmic motion in a fashion not necessarily revolutionary for heavy psych, but certainly well done and engaging across its tracks. The tones of guitar and bass offer a warmth rivaled only by the echoing vocals on opener/longest cut (immediate points) “Logos,” and the shimmering “Sierra Tejada” and progressively building “Calcination” follow that pattern while adding a drift that is both of heavy psych and outside of it in terms of the character of how it’s played. None of the last three tracks is less than eight minutes long — closer “Firelake” tops nine in a mirror to “Logos” at the outset, but if that’s the band pushing further out I hear, then yes, I want to go along for that trip.

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Para Hobo Records on Bandcamp

 

Ritual King, Ritual King

ritual king ritual king

Progressive heavy rockers Ritual King display a striking amount of grace and patience across their Ripple Music-issued self-titled long-player. Tapping modern influences like Elder and bringing their own sense of melodic nuance to the proceedings across a tightly-constructed seven songs and 42 minutes, the three-piece of vocalist/guitarist Jordan Leppitt, bassist Dan Godwin — whose tone is every bit worthy of gotta-hear-it classification — and drummer/backing vocalist Gareth Hodges string together linear movements in “Headspace” and “Dead Roads” that flow one into the next, return at unexpected moments or don’t, and follow a direction not so much to the next chorus but to the next statement the band want to make, whatever that might be. “Restrain” begins with a sweet proggy soundscape and unfolds two verses over a swaying riff, then is gone, where at the outset, “Valleys” offers grandeur the likes of which few bands would dare to embody on their third or fourth records, let alone their first. Easily one of 2020’s best debuts.

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Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Sunflowers, Endless Voyage

sunflowers endless voyage

You know what? Never mind. You ain’t weird enough for this shit. Nobody’s weird enough for this shit. I have a hard time believing the two souls from Portugal who made it are weird enough for this shit. Think I’m wrong? Think you’re up for it and you’re gonna put on SunflowersEndless Voyage and be like, “oh yeah, turns out mega-extreme krautrock blasted into outer space was my wavelength all along?” Cool. Bandcamp player’s right there. Have at it. I dare you.

Sunflowers on Thee Facebooks

Stolen Body Records store

 

Maya Mountains, Era

maya mountains era

Italian heavy rockers Maya Mountains formed in 2005 and issued their debut album, Hash and Pornography, through Go Down Records in 2008. Era, which follows a narrative about the title-character whose name is given in lead cut “Enrique Dominguez,” who apparently travels through space after being lost in the desert — as one does — and on that basis alone is clearly a more complex offering than its predecessor. As to where Maya Mountains have been all the time in between records — here and there, in other bands, etc. But Era, at 10 tracks and 44 minutes, is the summation of five years of work on their part and its blend of scope and straight-ahead heavy riffing is welcome in its more heads-down moments like “Vibromatic” or in the purposefully weirder finale “El Toro” later on. Something like a second debut for the band after being away for so long, Era at very least marks the beginning of a new one for them, and one hopes it continues in perhaps more productive fashion than the last.

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Go Down Records store

 

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