Live Review: HØSTSABBAT 2019 Night One in Oslo, Norway, 10.04.19

Posted in Reviews on October 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat 2019 poster square

Before Show

Well, the church is still beautiful, not that there was any doubt. The Kulturkirken Jakob, secularized — because in Norway, state might occasionally trump church — with its high-ceiling grandeur and broad wood floor and walls lined with benches that at some point were pews. I’d been holed up in the hotel since yesterday afternoon, mostly sleeping, stumbling through the last of the Quarterly Review and reading about baseball, the news, Star Trek, and so on. Trying to be, essentially, as quiet as possible as though if I weren’t, I’d be politely asked to leave the country. The next two days would assure any quota for volume was met, anyhow.

Skraeckoedlan, which is now a word I’ve typed often enough that my phone knows it, were soundchecking on the altar stage when I walked in. The stage itself was higher and the fest added another bar down toward the front of the big room, which seems like a prudent move. Downstairs in the crypt, Suma were prepping to kick off the first night of Høstsabbat 2019 with a noise soaked basement gig in what’s been also transformed into an art gallery. More visual art this year as well, and there’s a live painting event scheduled for tomorrow early that I’m going to see if I can make.

The only variable in that is finishing this review in time, to be honest.

But it’s only moments now until doors, then about an hour till the first band. People running around looking anxious, nervous, excited. Maybe it’s just me. That will I’m sure smooth out to a good energy as things get rolling and everyone ends up where they’re supposed to be. On the couch in back of the crypt, typing on my phone, that’s kind of where I feel like I am.

After Show

Wow. Well then. That was, uh, something special that I just saw. I feel like I was trying to pry open my jaw from the clenched position it’s been in for the last I don’t even know how long, and tonight was the prybar that finally did the job. Even the last 15 minutes or so of Ufomammut, that last shot of adrenaline. Wow.

The answer of course is obvious — the start — but I feel like I’m not even sure where to start on this one, or how I could hope to convey exactly what went down this evening and tonight in any meaningful way. Holy shit. You think you have a pretty good idea what you’re getting and then it just gets trampled on. I am lucky to be here.

I don’t know what else to tell you that doesn’t come down to that. Here’s a little bit of how it went:

SUMA

SUMA (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You know the thing about post-metal? It’s got rules. You have to headbang a certain way. You have to riff a certain way. You have to take it so seriously all the time. One of the many reasons to like Sweden’s SUMA is they very much seem to recognize that for the bullshit it is. Yeah, they’re post-metal, I guess, but with an inflection straight out of noise rock that makes them so much less strictly adherent to the tenets of the genre — any genre, really — and they’re all the more satisfying to watch because of it. I stood in back in the basement, closed my eyes and just let wave after crushing wave of riffs absolutely bury me in volume. What a start to the weekend. It was like scrubbing away all the bullshit of your existence, your work, your school, the petty dramas that make up your every day, and entering communion with something else. Something loud. Call it catharsis. Call it detox. I don’t really care. SUMA set the tone and vibe immediately for Høstsabbat while also giving everyone who followed the challenge of living up to their standard. I am lucky to be here.

Skraeckoedlan

Skraeckoedlan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

When Swedish melo-prog-fuzz four-piece Skraeckoedlan got added to this festival earlier this year, I didn’t dare hope to think I’d see them. They’re a band I’ve dug since the first time I heard their 2011 debut, Äppelträdet (review here), and their approach has only grown richer with time, as 2015’s Sagor (review here) and 2019’s Eorþe (review here) demonstrate so plainly. But I never expected to catch a live set. Never mind the band standing on a frickin’ altar in a cathedral blazing through their material like it’s another day down at the Office of Kickass, I didn’t imagine a scenario when they and I would be in the same place. I’m glad to have been so wrong about that, because standing there watching them only confirmed the fandom I’ve had for their work over the course of this decade, and really, they’ve only gotten better as they’ve gone on. I may never get the chance to see them again, but after watching them tonight at Høstsabbat, I feel like asking to would be greedy anyhow. I am lucky to be here.

Yatra

Yatra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

This is Yatra‘s first European tour. Something tells me it will not be their last. The Baltimorean trio hit the road hard domestically in the US following the January release of their debut album, Death Ritual (review here), through Grimoire Records, and they reportedly began recording the follow-up to that over the summer. Well, that’s nifty, but in the meantime, here they are pairing with Sunnata on a tour this site is co-presenting and for all the stops they’ve made in New York this year — I can think a couple — Høstsabbat 2019 is my first time seeing them. I feel late to that party, but I’m late to most parties, so I’ll get over it. Nonetheless, as I had suspected, they’re a killer live act, and at least the debut album only tells part of that tale. On stage — or in basement, as it were — they tap into a primal energy, like they’re excavating the very roots of sludge metal. Oh yeah, and Dana Helmuth‘s vocals sound like Jeff fucking Walker from peak-era Carcass, so that ain’t exactly hurting their cause either. Yatra have the potential to lead a revival nastier, more brutal sludge in the US. This tour is only going to make them stronger, as they all will. I am lucky to be here.

Electric Eye

Electric Eye (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Hail the rock på Norska! Across the street (right out the door), at the Verkstedet bar, the entire bill was Norwegian, but Electric Eye would be the lone Norge representatives on the altar, and for what it’s worth — plenty — they brought a sonic spirit that reached far beyond international borders. Also beyond the borders of the atmosphere. I don’t know if it would be appropriate to call their take on space rock entirely mellow, but it was subtle in a way that allowed other influences to creep in almost before you realized they were there. It was a stark contrast, energy-wise, to the rawness Yatra had wrought downstairs, but Electric Eye made the most of their engaging style and gave Høstsabbat a cosmic push that was more than welcome. I had wanted to check out Kosmos Brenner, who last-minute took the spot of Superlynx after a death in the family assured they wouldn’t make it, but after I popped out for a second, I found myself strangely drawn back to the ethereal mysteries being pondered on the big stage. I’ll admit they’ve been around for more than six years and I’d never heard them before. Lesson learned. That lesson? I’m lucky to be here.

Stuck in Motion

Stuck in Motion (Photo by JJ Koczan)

This past April, when I was fortunate enough to see Enköping, Sweden, trio Stuck in Motion at Roadburn (review here), they played as a four-piece, with keys in addition to the guitar, bass and drums. At Høstsabbat, they added percussion as well to their hippie-vibing jams, so there were five of them crammed into the basement stage area — it’s not a stage, as such, but it’s where the gear goes — but if they felt packed in, that did nothing to slow their good times. Retro-fied psychedelic blues, all pastoral and dreamy, but still earthbound enough to tear into a Hendrixian solo every now and again (and again), their stuff made for easy-to-listen vibes, and a soothing bit of respite from some of the day’s more crushing contributors — a complement to Electric Eye in that, but less motorik and more flow. Before they played “Are You Ready to Fly” from their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), they indeed checked in with the crowd to see if the room was ready to fly, and I heard no murmurings to the contrary. That self-released LP has been a little under-radar as yet, but given how full the crypt was for their set, I can’t help but wonder what the reception for their next one will be when it arrives, hopefully sooner than later. I am lucky to be here.

Sunnata

sunnata (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It was hard not to feel like the church was built specifically for Sunnata. The Polish meditative heavy psych ritualists came out with incense and harem pants (respect) and were clear in their concept from the outset, tapping into the spirit of acts like Om and My Sleeping Karma, while still retaining a harder edge to their sound beneath the harmonized vocals of guitarists Szymon Ewertowski and Adrian Gadomski. Special mention should be given as well to bassist Michal Dobrzanski and drummer Robert Ruszczyk, whose ability to build tension was readily apparent in the band’s latest album, Outlands (review here), which came out last year, but whose doing so on stage was nothing short of physically affecting. You felt the churn in your stomach, and when they hit into a payoff, the relief was genuine. Exhale. They’re on tour with Yatra, as noted, but I put Sunnata in the same category of bands I never imagined being able to see live but was absurdly to do so. One recalls their days rocking out fuzzy as Satellite Beaver, and the ongoing evolution they set to roll with the transition they made becoming Sunnata. Their spaciousness, looking inward and outward simultaneously, was an immersive joy to behold. Again, exhale. I am lucky to be here.

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin (Photo by JJ Koczan)

In the words of Bernie Sanders: “Look.” I stood in front of two of the three of this festival’s stages all day, and at no point was there a crowd press like there was for Yuri Gagarin. I got to the crypt 20 minutes before they were slated to go on and already people were packed in. Very clearly a band whose reputation was preceding them. It’s been four years since the Gothenburg cosmonauts issued their second long-player, At the Center of All Infinity, through Kommun2 and Sulatron, but their out-the-airlock-into-the-void vibes were quick to remind that time is a human construct and space rock is not. Reaching into the great cosmic throb, they launched with “Sonic Invasion 2910” from their 2013 self-titled and proceeded into oblivion — though I’m not sure it was actually “Oblivion”; that’s on the second record — with the sheer delight of not-entirely-peaceful exploration. About two songs into their set, before I stood up from taking pictures and rolled my numb-ass ankle, I had the thought that I’ll never be able to see Hawkwind in their prime, but now I’ve seen Yuri Gagarin as up close as I could ever hope to see any band. I think some of what they played was new, but don’t quote me on that. Either way, as noted: time, irrelevant. They ruled. I am lucky to be here.

Ufomammut

Ufomammut (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Holy fucking shit, Ufomammut. I’ve had the pleasure a few times over the years, but this was hands-down the best I’ve ever seen the Italian cosmic doom masters play. They began with a few renditions in the style of their recent XX (review here) offering of revamped older material in quieter form — “Satan,” “Mars,” etc. — but what they did with that was gradually use it to build into the heavier portion of the set, so that each successive piece pushed a little further. First it was Urlo and Poia on stage, the former on keys/noise/vocals, the latter on guitar, then Poia joined in for cymbal washes, then drums, then the guitars got louder, then the drums got harder, then the vocals got shoutier until it seemed like the crowd was going to fucking riot if someone didn’t launch into a riff. But 20 years on, Ufomammut know exactly how to put people where they want them, so when they did get heavy, it was glorious. All the more so for the tension they’d built leading up to it. With a projector going on the high church stage, they absolutely laid waste to the room, like a consuming sonic burst of interstellar force. It was impossible to stand there and not be swept up by it. I kept telling myself it was time to go back to the room and start writing, but I couldn’t leave. How many times in your life do you get to see shows like this? They ended, of course, with “God,” and there was nowhere to go after that anyway, so what the hell. It was amazing. Like the entirety of day one at Høstsabbat, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going into Ufomammut‘s set, and my expectations were thoroughly squashed. I am lucky to be here.

The Next Morning

Achy, but up for it. Took me a while to let myself go to sleep, but I got there eventually, was only up a couple times overnight, which is pretty good for me at this point. Hotel breakfast downstairs had free coffee, so I indulged in two triple-doubles — three double espressos, times two — and feel reasonably conscious. Could stand and will have a shower and that will help as well.

Though it seems inevitable that at some point Høstsabbat will add a third day to the proceedings, be it a pre-show Thursday or a full day Sunday, whatever, the quality-over-quantity at this festival makes it all the more unreal. Every band has something to offer, and though this year with the third stage there are inevitably things you won’t get to see all of if you see at all, the sense of curation and purpose that’s gone into its making is nothing if not palpable. My conclusion remains that I’m lucky to be here.

Some more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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The Obelisk Presents: Sunnata & Yatra European Tour

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on July 25th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

sunnata yatra tour banner

The response this year to Yatra‘s debut album, Death Ritual (discussed here), has been stunning, but no less has been the amount of work the Maryland band have put in to support it. They’ve reportedly got a follow-up recorded now, and with Poland’s Sunnata getting ready to issue a new record of their own next year, the two make an excellent complement to each other, Sunnata‘s lush melodicism and spaciousness and Yatra‘s crush-your-head riffs coming together for a tour that hits hard and expands your mind at the same time. Cool bill, and I’m honored to have been asked to be among the presenters for it along with Blackskull Services and STB Records. Obviously that was an easy “yes.”

Beginning Oct. 2 in Dresden, the tour will make stops in Oslo, Norway, for Høstsabbat (see you there) as well as at Setalight FestivalDesertfest Belgium and Into the Void as part of an efficient 12-show run that’s over on Oct. 19. There are a few off-days in there, and I don’t know if they’ll be filled in or what, but as Yatra‘s debut European tour and Sunnata‘s kiss-goodbye to their third album, last year’s Outlands (review here), it seems like just the right tour at just the right time. Hard to ask for anything more than that, except perhaps to see it.

So go see it.

Here’s the info:

sunnata yatra tour poster

Doom units Sunnata and Yatra announce fall European tour

It’s a doom takeover! Blackskull Services are happy to present the European fall dates for heavier-than-heavy purveyors SUNNATA and YATRA, to kick off October 2nd in Germany.

SUNNATA declare: “We are writing new material for an upcoming, 4th full length album. We hope to release this in 2020. We want to merge the primal vibe of our latest album ‘Outlands’ with heavier riffage, being an essential part of yet another tribute to void. Feel invited for a journey with us.”

Sunnata performs ritual heavy music. A soulful, trance-inducing journey deep into self. Known from expressive and atmospheric live performances, the Warsaw foursome already took part in various international festivals and been invited to support the likes of Mastodon, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, The Sword, Kylesa or Conan, just to name a few. Sunnata explores impermanent nature of sound, full of rapid changes and distortion overdose.

Meanwhile, YATRA add: “We have just completed the recording of a new eight-song album at Developing Nations Recording Studio (of Skeletonwitch, Full of Hell, Pig Destroyer fame) to be released worldwide on STB Records on all formats this year.”

Yatra is a journey into mountainous sound, transcending into the deep forests of primeval times. Born of the ashes of doom band Blood Raven, Yatra emerged to create sound is “darkly spiritual” and includes elements of doom and sludgy riffs, guitar explorations, a heavy rhythm section and black metal style vocals.

SUNNATA & YATRA European tour:
02.10 – Dresden (DE) HD
03.10 – Copenhagen (DK) Stengade
04.10 – Oslo (NO) Hostsabbat Festival
06.10 – Uppsala (SE) Ungdomens Hus
09.10 – Cologne (DE) MTC
10.10 – Colmar (FR) Grillen
11.10 – Ilmenau (DE) Baracke 5
12.10 – Berlin (DE) Setalight Festival
16.10 – Munich (DE) Backstage
17.10 – Paris (FR) L’International
18.10 – Antwerp (BE) Desertfest Belgium
19.10 – Leeuwarden (NL) Into The Void

SUNNATA is:
Szymon Ewertowski – vocals, guitar
Adrian Gadomski – vocals, guitar
Michal Dobrzanski – bass
Robert Ruszczyk – drums, percussion

YATRA:
Dana Helmuth – guitars/vocals
Maria Geisbert – bass
Mike Tull – drums

https://www.facebook.com/sunnataofficial
http://sunnataofficial.bandcamp.com/

http://www.facebook.com/yatradoom
https://yatradoom.bandcamp.com

Yatra, Death Ritual (2019)

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Desertfest Belgium 2019 Adds Ty Segall & The Freedom Band, The Obsessed, ASG, Toundra, Yatra, and Sunnata

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I know people’s schedules can be weird and sometimes you have to work on a weekend or you have a family thing or whatever it might be, but I don’t really get the day-ticket thing. If you’re going to go to a festival, don’t you want to be there for the entire event if you absolutely can? I mean, if monetarily it’s one day or nothing, that’s one thing, but if you have your choice between one day or three, who would just choose one? Isn’t part of the appeal of the thing that there’s so much going on? Again, if that’s how it has to be and there’s one band you absolutely need to see or something like that, fine, but would you really choose to only see one day of a fest like Desertfest Belgium 2019 if you could see all three?

The autumnal edition of Desertfest has a few new lineup announcements, including the surprise headliner of Ty Segall & the Freedom Band. They’re right. I didn’t see that one coming:

desertfest belgium 2019 banner

DFBE19 NEW HEADLINER: TY SEGALL & THE FREEDOM BAND! Day Tickets available 15/05

Guess you didn’t see this one coming! And yet here it is: Ty Segall & The Freedom Band will perform a highly exclusive set of European shows this fall, and we are honoured to host one of these as a headliner at this year’s Desertfest. More details are forthcoming, but Ty’s performance has never been anything less than blistering – and The Freedom Band sees him in his most ambitious setup yet.

A completely different strand of melodic heavy rock will be brought in as ASG hits the stage. The North Carolina riff-rockers certainly need no introduction to our crowd and have become a perennial fan favorite, and with good reason. Coming in from Madrid, Toundra is an experimental instrumental post-rock outfit with a vibe that is entirely in its own plane of existence.

As far as stoner doom legends go, you can’t get much more legendary than Wino. His most beloved outfit The Obsessed has been back with a vengeance since 2016, so it’s high time they make an appearance on our festival! And finally, we present you with two highly original doom bands to complete this batch of names. Yatra offers up a spiritual blend of doom, sludge and blackened vocals, straight from the Maryland forests. Sunnata hails from Poland, working towards a highly acclaimed sound that incorporates psychedelia with grungey harmonies and severe riffing.

DAY TICKETS ARE IMMINENT

If for some reason you don’t want to go the entire length, and would prefer to limit your DF intake to 1 day – we have just the ticket for you!

Or rather: we soon will have. On Wednesday 15/05 at 1pm sharp we will start selling day tickets for this year’s festival. From that point, we will also publish the line-up per day so far on our website. These tickets will be highly limited, so get them while you can!

http://www.desertfest.be/tickets
https://www.facebook.com/desertfestbelgium/
https://www.facebook.com/events/2260579413999993/
https://twitter.com/DesertfestBE

Ty Segall & the Freedom Band, Deforming Lobes (2019)

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Sunnata and Weedpecker Touring Later This Month

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

That’s a solid pairing, Sunnata and Weedpecker. I’d call both bands progressive heavy psychedelic rock, but they don’t really tread a lot of the same ground when it comes right down to the nitty-gritty of their respective approaches. I’d imagine they’ll complement each other well on tour as they head through the Balkans and into Greece en route to playing the SoundArt Festival in Bucharest, Romania. Both acts put out records last year, so all the better they’re joining forces for the run, and while I’m sad to say I’ve never seen either live, at least I can appreciate two such forward-thinking bands getting out and delivering their wares from door to door for about two weeks. I would not expect this to be either of their only shows this year, but still would be cool to catch them together. Plus the poster is awesome and that never hurts either.

The dates were posted as follows on the social medias, and there’s audio at the bottom of this post to get your brain expanded:

sunnata weedpecker tour

Sunnata & Weedpecker – 2019: A Balkan Odyssey Tour

2019: A Balkan Odyssey Tour. Conjoined journey of Weedpecker and sunnata to the south. We are bringing you the finest oriental/psychedelic/stoner trips you might get in February/March. Prepare your spacesuits and see you at:

27.02 – Vienna: Sunnata, Weedpecker, Ozymandias
28.02 – Zagreb: Weedpecker & Sunnata na Good Vibrationsu u Mocvari!
01.03 – Budapest: Sunnata /pol/ & Weedpecker /pol/ koncert Budapesten!
02.03 – Timisoara: Sunnata [POL] + Weedpecker [POL] live at Reflektor
03.03 – TBA / Serbia
05.03 – Sofia: Weedpecker & Sunnata live in Mixtape 5
06.03 – Thessaloniki: Sunnata [PL] & Weedpecker [PL] live in Thessaloniki
07.03 – Athens: Sunnata [PL] & Weedpecker [PL] live in Athens
09.03 – Bucharest: SoundArt Festival 2019
10.03 – Cluj-Napoca: Live / Sunnata [POL], Weedpecker [POL]

This one is going to be trippy.

SUNNATA is:
Szymon Ewertowski – vocals, guitar
Adrian Gadomski – vocals, guitar
Michal Dobrzanski – bass
Robert Ruszczyk – drums, percussion

Weedpecker is:
Wyro – guitar,vocals
Bartek – guitar,vocals
Karol – bass
Kuks – drums

https://www.facebook.com/sunnataofficial
https://twitter.com/followsunnata
http://sunnataofficial.bandcamp.com/
https://www.youtube.com/user/sunnataofficial/videos

https://www.facebook.com/Weedpecker-349871488424872/
https://weedpecker.bandcamp.com/
http://weedpecker.bigcartel.com/
http://weedpecker.8merch.com/

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

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

the-top-30-of-2018

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

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

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

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

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

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

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

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

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

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

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

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

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

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

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

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

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

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

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

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

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

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

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

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

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

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

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

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

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

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

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

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

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

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

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

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

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

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

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

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

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

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

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

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

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

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

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

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

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

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

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

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

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

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

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

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

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

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

6. All Them Witches, ATW

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

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

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

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

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

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

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

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

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

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

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

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

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

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

Special Note

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

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

Best Short Release of the Year

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

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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

Okay, That’s It

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

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

So thanks.

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

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

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 06

Posted in Radio on December 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

gimme radio logo

Okay, so I guess the first thing you should know if you don’t know is I sort of have a radio show. It’s called The Obelisk Show. I’ve been in league with the good peoples at Gimme Radio for a couple months now, and it seems like it’s sticking, which is nice. They’ve been kind enough to give me a forum through which to share music, and I’m happy for the opportunity. I’ve guested with Diane Farris (also now on Gimme) on WFMU a few times over the years, but haven’t hosted a show since I was in college at WSOU in New Jersey, so it’s been a thrill to do so again. I had missed it more than I realized.

Since it doesn’t look like I’m about to be immediately shitcanned by Gimme on account of general suckdom — can’t help but feel like I’m getting away with something there — I wanted to get an archive going of playlists on here, basically so I can refer to it later and know what I’ve already played and when. Otherwise, I’ll just do the same stuff all the time, because I’m kind of a doof generally. So here we are.

The latest episode — the sixth — was a wrap-up of what I thought were some of the best tracks from 2018. You can see the playlist below in the kind oldschool-looking spreadsheet form. Ignore the asterisks by the album titles; they just mean something that came out this year. Which, in the case of this episode, was everything.

If you didn’t get to hear it the first time around or want to dig into other episodes, Gimme has an archive available on the cheap, and they reair the show as well. Thanks either way if you get to check it out.

I thought this was a decent one. Here’s the playlist:

The Obelisk Show Ep. 06 – 12.16.18

Gozu Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat Equilibrium* 0:06:24
Mos Generator The Destroyer Shadowlands* 0:04:27
BREAK
Traden Hymn Traden* 0:07:20
Sandrider Hollowed Armada* 0:06:06
Grayceon Let it Go IV* 0:06:22
Sunnata Outlands Outlands* 0:07:37
BREAK
Monster Magnet When the Hammer Comes Down Mindfucker* 0:05:42
Fu Manchu Don’t Panic Clone of the Universe* 0:02:04
Foghound Known Wolves Awaken to Destroy* 0:03:59
Naxatras You Won’t be Left Alone III* 0:11:17
King Buffalo Morning Song Longing to be the Mountain* 0:09:49
Weedpecker Liquid Sky III* 0:06:33
Black Rainbows Riding Fast Till the End of Time Pandaemonium* 0:04:07
Witch Mountain Burn You Down Witch Mountain* 0:07:40
BREAK
Sleep Sonic Titan The Sciences* 0:12:27
YOB Ablaze Our Raw Heart* 0:10:13

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Tuesday at 9AM. Next show is Jan. 13. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Høstsabbat 2019: Sunnata, LLNN and Slabdragger Announced; Early-Bird Tickets on Sale Today

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Yes, Høstsabbat is still pretty fresh in mind, considering the 2018 edition just took place at the start of this month. All the better than to look forward to Høstsabbat 2019 in Oslo at the Kulturkirken Jakob, as the fest puts early-bird tickets on sale as of today and announces Sunnata from Poland as the first band for the bill. Their heavy prog was most recently manifest in earlier-2018’s Outlands (review here), their third album, which ranged far into thoughtful composition of soundscapes and sundry spheres of heavy. LLNN and Slabdragger have also been announced.

I don’t know that I’ll have the privilege of being in Norway next Fall to see them — even if I’m invited, it’s hard to know what a year from now will bring; always possible a piano falls on my head out of the sky and that’s feeling more and more likely all the time — but I’ll be keeping up with Høstsabbat 2019 either way as I believe in their project and the developing personality of the festival was clearly on display in the church this year.

More to come, I guess is what I’m saying. For now, here’s this:

Høstsabbat 2019 – Oct. 4 & 5

The SOLD OUT Høstsabbat 2018 at Kulturkirken Jakob really exceeded our expectations and was a joy from start to end. In 2019 we are ready to make an even better festival.

Early Bird tickets will be out this Friday 26th of October, and we will start to release the first bands very soon.

Høstsabbat 2019 will once again go down October 4th and 5th at Kulturkirken JAKOB. A stunning church in the heart of Oslo, with an atmosphere unrivalled.

Over two days you will experience slow and crushing doom, heavy bluesrock, stoner, proto-heavy metal, psychedelic spacerock and prog.

As last year there will be two alternating stages with their own unique vibe. In the church room you will find the stunning main stage, The Chapel. This room will fit all of you. The second stage, The Crypt, is a smaller club stage in the basement with all the dungeon vibes needed. When the capaCity is reached in The Crypt, there will be one person out one person in-principle.

There will be an even bigger outdoor tent this year connected to the church where there will be a lot of seatings, great barbecue food (for both meat lovers and vegans), refreshing drinks and smashing band merchandise.

Høstsabbat will showcase the best of the current underground scene of heavy music, bringing new talent as well as more established names.

Summon the spirits, gather the souls…

Sunnata

It is with great pleasure we are welcoming the first band to next years’ Høstsabbat.

We have said it before, and we are gladly repeating ourselves; The polish heavy underground is on fire. sunnata will be the third band we bring to Oslo from this booming scene.

With their recent album “Outlands”, they are manifesting their position as one of the most exciting bands out there, mixing eastern scales with layers of atmospheric instrumentation. Long passages of transcendental chanting let the listener soak and dwell in their realm, before a wall of riffs knocks you right in the gut, and awake you from a lucid dream.

Sunnata will leave the audience spellbound, when they close out their set October 2019.

We will unveil two more bands before the Early Bird tickets are out Friday at 12:00.

MUSIC
Spotify: http://bit.ly/HSsunnataSF
Youtube: http://bit.ly/YTsunnataoutlands
Bandcamp: http://bit.ly/HSsunnatabandcamp

LLNN

Sometimes it’s tempting, and might also be necessary, to give in for the darker emotions and let frustration and total aggression steer the wheel. One of the most angst-ridden, terrifying and straight up furious releases this year came out of the shores of Denmark. «Deads» put LLNN on the map of all things heavy once and for all. Some albums are better at channelling emotions than others, and this one you won’t forget.

Out on Pelagic Records, “Deads” scored LLNN gigs at Roadburn, Roskilde and Desertfest, letting this four-piece show off their intense live performance to a bigger audience. We have seen these guys on stage numerous times, and it’s something you do not want to miss.

We are proud to welcome the first danish act ever to Høstsabbat, October 2019.
LLNN is not kidding around, they come to lay waste

MUSIC
Spotify: http://bit.ly/LLNNspotifyHS
Bandcamp: http://bit.ly/LLNNbandcampHS

Slabdragger

The underground is important to Høstsabbat, not only here in Scandinavia, but we do our best to keep track with what’s happening elsewhere on our continent too.

The UK has been pioneering bands on the heavier, uglier side of things for years, and we’ve brought a few of them to our previous editions. Latest featured in the fabulous “The Doom Doc”, digging deep in the mentioned UK-scene, Slabdragger has been making waves for 10 years and has been a pivotal band in forming the quintessential UK sludge sound.

Their latest album “Rise of the Dawncrusher”, out on Holy Roar Records, starts off in an almost Sleep-esque groove, before the nastiness unveils gradually as clean vocals lose ground for growls and screams. We can only imagine how the massive physical impact of this record translates to their live performance. We are psyched to present the insanely heavy three piece that is SLABDRAGGER at Høstsabbat, October 2019.

EARLY BIRD TICKETS
Early Bird-tickets is out in one hour at 12:00!
Follow this link: http://bit.ly/Høstsabbat-earlybird (maximum 2 tickets each)

MUSIC
Spotify: http://bit.ly/SFSlabbdraggerHS
Youtube: http://bit.ly/SlabdraggerYT

HØSTSABBAT 2019 SPOTIFY PLAYLIST
http://bit.ly/HS2019playlist

https://www.facebook.com/events/274561413173994/
https://www.facebook.com/hostsabbat/
http://hostsabbat.no/

Sunnata, Outlands (2018)

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Sunnata, Outlands: Travel Beyond Borderlines

Posted in Reviews on March 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sunnata outlands

This year marks a decade of activity for Poland’s Sunnata, who began their career releasing a series of EPs and a full-length under a prior name before beefing up their sound and adopting the new identity for 2014’s Climbing the Colossus. The impressive Zorya (review here) followed in 2016 and expanded their progressive reach, and their apparent penchant for putting out records on even years continues with Outlands, which also continues a theme of vague figures on the cover art, keeping in kind with both LPs prior in that regard.

If one were to look at the many faces and arms/branches of the person/alien/deity on the front of Outlands and think Sunnata — the lineup of vocalists/guitarists Szymon Ewertowski and Adrian Gadomski, bassist Michal Dobrzanski and drummer Robert Ruszczyk — might be shooting for something to convey a multifaceted existence of some sort, their sound bears that out across the eight-song/47-minute release, which is comprised of nothing less than brilliantly composed progressive post-heavy rock, so spacious that one can hardly see from one end of it to the other, and encompassing enough to genuinely feel like it’s creating its own world as it plays out.

Consistent in overall largesse, it varies in songcraft so that a piece like the nine-minute post-intro opener “Lucid Dream” and the later thrust of “Gordian Knot” hit their own targets, but the underlying force of the production and the expansiveness of the sounds being created tie the songs together and create an overarching flow that moves the listener carefully along Outlands‘ otherwise tumultuous path. If Climbing the Colossus was about Sunnata establishing what was then a new identity and Zorya about expanding their reach into new cross-genre territories, then Outlands feels like the realization of Sunnata of something unto itself, born of but not necessarily beholden to its influences and expressive on both emotional and cerebral levels.

It’s not every band who is able to make that leap, but Sunnata have quite clearly dedicated themselves to pushing ahead creatively, and that seems to guide the Warsaw four-piece’s craft on Outlands, be it the subtle build and surge of volume and groove in “Lucid Dream” that provides the record’s first payoff and arguably most effective moment of consumption, or the Alice in Chains-style harmonies and layering that tops the blastbeats of “Scars,” which follows. More even than their last time out, there’s a prevalent sense of ritual to Outlands — with some of the Eastern inflection in the guitar work, one is almost reminded of a less Om-derived Ethereal Riffian — but the real key to the album is patience.

Sunnata Aleksandra Burska

Even when they’re playing fast, as on “Scars” or in “The Ascender,” they’re in no rush, and suitably enough, the best example — if it’s not “Lucid Dream” — might be Outlands‘ side-A-capping title-track, which begins with an underlying tension of drums and whispers and moves fluidly through hypnotic repetitions through its early verses; the bottom-of-the-mouth vocals vague but working in intertwined layers to mask the build happening beneath them. Finally, at about the five-minute mark and in a mirror of “Lucid Dream” before it, “Outlands” slams into a massive groove that only grows larger when the drums slow to half-time. That would usually be enough to end on, but Sunnata push through the crescendo and dip back into atmospheric reaches and rebuild a progression that’s never really meant to take off in the way of the prior movement, but ends with acapella harmonies to give way to the low-end heft of “The Ascender” at the start of side B, which will ultimately be defined by the album’s 12-minute finale, “Hollow Kingdom” but still has plenty of crunch to offer along its path toward that ending.

To wit, the pairing of “The Ascender” and “Gordian Knot” at the start of side B doesn’t seem accidental. I’m not sure I’d all either track straightforward, but with some harsher vocals included in both — shouts that in the first verse of “Gordian Knot” are metallic enough to remind me of the last Amebix record (which I liked) — and shorter runtimes (5:33 and 4:21, respectively) compared to everything on side A except Outlands‘ 40-second noise-build “Intro,” the impression is still of a more direct methodology. Fortunately, Sunnata handle the intensity of “Gordian Knot” with no less grace than they did the worldbuilding of “Lucid Dreams,” and there are still all manner of backing vocal layers and other noises to contend with, so it’s not like the depth has disappeared, it’s just being used toward rawer ends. “Gordian Knot” caps at full-throttle and gives way to the manipulated guitar noise (and maybe keys?) of “Falling (Interlude),” which serves as a direct lead-in for “Hollow Kingdom,” the 12:35 run of which begins minimal, quiet and spacious, before moving through early sections that are more chants than verses but engagingly melodic nonetheless and serving as something of a hook anyway with the repetition of the word “hollow” as a kind of mantra.

Just before two minutes in, Sunnata shift into the next section of the song, but instead of continuing to build forward, cut back again after this verse and return to the patience shown in “Lucid Dreams” and the title-track. A chorus is established and while it seems like “Hollow Kingdom” is headed for an inevitable payoff, just before its halfway point, the song breaks — the kick drum and some sparse guitar letting you know it’s still there at all — and turns to a completely different progression. It’s a little out-of-nowhere, but one suspects that’s the whole idea. They’re building again, patiently, subtly, and they do indeed move into an apex for “Hollow Kingdom” with lumbering crashes that begin just passed nine minutes in, but to my mind, the real confirmation of the band’s achievement with Outlands is what follows, when they return to the original chorus to close out. By then, they’ve shifted so far away from where they originally came that it’s completely unexpected, and the turn is pulled off flawlessly as a final confirmation of the level of craft that Sunnata have been executing all along.

One wonders if, 10 years ago, the members of Sunnata might have had any sense of the accomplishments in style and substance they would ultimately attain, but whether Outlands is the result of a conscious evolutionary process or an organic growth from release to release, the fact remains that it stands in a place all its own.

Sunnata on Thee Facebooks

Sunnata on Twitter

Sunnata on Bandcamp

Sunnata on YouTube

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