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 visite site Set of stationery is paper for writing letters to the fantasy fans or main paths.Śèòàé ïîëíîńòüț09.02.2018 Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

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29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by How Do We Write Essay - Essays & researches written by high class writers. Start working on your report right now with professional guidance offered by the Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

High-powered cosmic metal from Finland pulling apart heavy psychedelia on an atomic level with an urgency that speaks of youth, progress and an ingrained need for exploration? Sign me up. A lot of bands on this list put out their first album this year. There are few for whom my hopes are as high as they are for Search for jobs related to http://www.synthomer.com/?how-to-format-a-business-plan or hire on the world's largest freelancing marketplace with 13m+ jobs. It's free to sign up Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard Stop asking yourself "Can someone Pay For Report Homework"! We can and we will! Give us a brief information about your needs and stop worrying about it! Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

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27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Your essay writing can be dramatically improved overnight simply by using the correct essay structure, as explained below. Where the essay starts. When you are follow url, every sentence and every paragraph is important. But there is something extra important about introductions. Just like going out on a date for the first time, you want the introduction to be just right, almost perfect 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 (Roadsaw, Sasquatch, 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 BjĂžrnson (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 SandĂžy, 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, EllengĂŠst
Cruthu, AthrĂș 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 SilvÄkra 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 SilvÄkra 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, LantlĂŽs, 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: Celestial Season, Wren, Sumokem, Oginalii, Völur, Wedge, SpellBook, Old Blood, Jahbulong, Heavy Trip

Posted in Reviews on December 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

The end of the week for the Quarterly Review is a special time, even if this particular QR will continue into next Monday and Tuesday. Also apparently today is Xmas? Okay. Whatever, I’ve got writing to do. I hope you’re safe and not, say, traveling out of state to see family against the urging of the CDC. That would be incredibly irresponsible, etc. etc. that’s what I’m doing. Don’t get me started.

However you celebrate or don’t, be safe. Music will help.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Celestial Season, The Secret Teachings

celestial season the secret teachings

Like many of the original death-doom set, Dutch masters Celestial Season gave up the style during their original run, departing toward heavy rock after 1995’s Solar Lovers. At an hour’s run spread across 13 tracks including ambient guitar and violin/cello interludes, The Secret Teachings has no time for such flighty fare. Reunited with original vocalist Stefan Ruiters and bassist Lucas van Slegtenhorst, the band return in grand fashion for their first full-length in 20 years, and songs like “Long Forlorn Tears” and “Salt of the Earth” conjure all the expert-grade morose plod one could possibly ask, as each side of the 2LP begins with its own intro and sets its own mood, from the almost-hopeful wistfulness of opener/longest track (immediate points) “The Secret Teachings of All Ages” at the start to the birdsong-laced “Beneath the Temple Mount” that leads the way into “A Veil of Silence” and “Red Water” at the finish, the latter a Type O Negative cover that fits well after the crescendo of the song before it.

Celestial Season on Thee Facebooks

Burning World Records website

 

Wren, Groundswells

wren groundswells

The gift Wren make to post-metal is that even in their quietest stretches, they maintain tension. And sure, the Londoners’ second LP, Groundswells — also stylized all-caps: GROUNDSWELLS — has in “Murmur” its “Stones From the Sky” moment as all works of the genre seemingly must, but the six-cut/44-minute follow-up to 2017’s Auburn Rule (discussed here) casts a scope less about pretense or ambition than largesse and heft, and that serves it well, be it in the shorter “Crossed Out Species” or longer pieces like the opener “Chrome” and the penultimate “Subterranean Messiah,” which injects some melodic vocals into the proceedings and airy string-inclusive prog amid all the surrounding crush. All well and good, but it’s hard to deny the sheer assault of the doomed apex in closer “The Throes,” and you’ll pardon me if I don’t try. Ambience through volume, catharsis through volume, volume all things.

Wren on Thee Facebooks

Gizeh Records website

 

Sumokem, Prajnaparadha

sumokem prajnaparadha

With strength of performance to fall back on and progressive realization in their songwriting, Little Rock, Arkansas’ Sumokem would seem to come of age on their third long-player, Prajnaparadha, answering the flourish of 2017’s The Guardian of Yosemite (discussed here) with an even more confident stylistic sprawl and an abiding patience that extends even to the album’s most intense moments. Not at all a minor undertaking in dynamic or its run of five long songs following the intro “Prologue,” Prajnaparadha manages not to be dizzying mostly because of the grace with which it’s crafted, tied together by ace guitar work and a propensity for soaring in order to complement and sometimes willfully contrast the tonal weight. When the growls show up in “Fakir” and carry into “Khizer,” Sumokem seem to push the record to its final level, and making that journey with them is richly satisfying.

Sumokem on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records webstore

 

Oginalii, Pendulum

Oginalii Pendulum

Psychedelia comes poison-tipped with brooding post-grunge atmospheres as Oginalii‘s Pendulum swings this way and that between “Scapegoat” and “Black Hole” and “Pillars” and “Veils” across its too short 24 minutes. The Nashvillainous four-piece explore an inner darkness perfect for these long months of forced-introspection, and though calling something pandemic-appropriate has become a tired compliment to give, the underlying rhythmic restlessness of “Scapegoat” and the crying out overtop, the fuzzy burst of “Veils” and the interweaving drums and guitar noise behind the recited semi-sung poetry of “Pillars” serve the soundtrack cause nonetheless, to say nothing of the two-minute minimalist echoing stretch of “Black Hole” or the oh-okay-it’s-indie-post-rock-but-oh-wait-what-the-hell-now-it’s-furious closer “Stripped the Screw.” Anger suits Oginalii as it comes through here, not in tired chestbeating but in spacious craft that manages to sound intense even in its languid reach. Pretty fucking cool, if you ask me.

Oginalii on Thee Facebooks

Devil in the Woods on Bandcamp

 

Völur, Death Cult

Völur death cult

Toronto’s Völur offer their third album, Death Cult, in cooperation with Prophecy Productions, and it comes in four string-laced tracks that waste little time in pushing genre limits, bringing folk influences in among doom, blackened metallurgy and more ethereal touches. Arrangements of violin, viola, cello, double-bass, keys, and the shared vocals of Laura Bates and Lucas Gadke (the latter also of Blood Ceremony) give a suitably arthouse feel to the proceedings rounded out by the drums and percussion of Justin Ruppel, and it’s far from unearned as the four songs play out across 37 minutes, “Dead Moon” veering into lumbering death-doom in its apex ahead of the jazz-into-choral-into-drone-into-freer-jazz-into-progressive-black-metal of the 11-minute “Freyjan Death Cult,” subsequent closer “Reverend Queen” leaving behind the chaos in its last few minutes for an epilogue of mournful strings and drums; a dirge both unrepentantly beautiful and still in keeping with the atmospheric weight throughout. Bands like this — rare — make other bands better.

Volur on Thee Facebooks

Volur at Prophecy Productions

 

Wedge, Like No Tomorrow

wedge like no tomorrow

Bursting with enough energy to make one miss live music, Wedge‘s third album, Like No Tomorrow, transcends vintage-ism in its production if not its overall mindset, bringing clarity to Deep Purple organ-tics on opener “Computer” while keeping the lyrics purposefully modern. Bass leads the way in “Playing a Role” and the spirit is boogie fuzz until the jam hits and, yeah, they make it easy to go along for the ride. “Blood Red Wine” has arena-rock melody down pat while centerpiece and likely side A closer “Across the Water” at last lets itself go to that place, following the guitar until the surge that brings in “Queen of the Night” indulges purer proto-metal impulses, still accomplished in its harmonized chorus amid the charge. Is that the guitar solo in “U’n’I” panning left to right I hear? I certainly hope so. The shortest cut on Like No Tomorrow feels like it’s in a hurry to leave behind a verse, and sets up the surprisingly modestly paced “At the Speed of Life,” which is lent a cinematic feel by the organ and layered choral vocals that bolsters yet another strong hook, while the nine-minute “Soldier” is bluesier but still sounds like it could be the live incarnation of any of these tracks depending on where a given jam takes Wedge on any given night. Here’s hoping, anyhow.

Wedge on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

SpellBook, Magick and Mischief

SpellBook Magick and Mischief

About a year and a half after issuing Otherworldly (review here), their third album under the moniker Witch Hazel, the dukes of York, PA, are back with a new name and a refreshed sound. As SpellBook, vocalist Nate Tyson, guitarist Andy Craven, bassist Seibert Lowe and drummer Nicholas Zinn push through two vinyl sides of classic heavy f’n metal, less concerned with doom than they were but still saving a bit of roll for the longer centerpiece “Not Long for This World” and the airy, dramatic closer “Dead Detectives.” Elsewhere, “Black Shadow” brings a horns-at-the-ready chorus, “Motorcade” reminds that the power of Judas Priest was always in the basslines (that’s right, I said it), and “Ominous Skies” brims with the vitality of the new band that SpellBook are, even as it benefits from the confidence born of these players’ prior experience together.

SpellBook on Thee Facebooks

Cruz Del Sur Music website

 

Old Blood, Acid Doom

old blood acid doom

Kudos to L.A.’s Old Blood for at least making the classification part easy when it comes to their debut album, conveniently titled Acid Doom, though that category hardly accounts for, say, the piano stretch of second cut “Bridge to Nowhere,” or the heavy rock theatricality in “Heavy Water” or the horn sounds of “Slothgod” a few songs later, but I suppose one has to start somewhere, and ‘acid doom’ is fair enough when it comes to accounting for the sleekery in the vocals of Lynx, the weight of the riffs of C. Gunner, the roll of bassist Octopus and drummer Diesel and the classic-style organ work of J.F. Stone. But if Old Blood want to unfurl something deceptively complex and stylistically intricate on their debut, that’s certainly cool as far as I’m concerned. Production is a strong presence throughout in a way that pulls a bit from what the impact of the songs might be on stage (remember stages?), but the songwriting is there, and Lynx‘s voice is a noteworthy presence of its own. I’m not sure where they’ll end up sound-wise, but at the same time, Acid Doom comes across like nothing else in the batch of 70 records I’m doing for this Quarterly Review, and that in itself I find admirable.

Old Blood on Thee Facebooks

Metal Assault Records on Bandcamp

DHU Records webstore

 

Jahbulong, Eclectic Poison Tones

JAHBULONG ECLECTIC POISON TONES

Just because you know the big riff is going to kick in about a minute into opening track “Under the Influence of the Fool” on Jahbulong‘s tarot-inflected stoner doom four-songer Eclectic Poison Tones doesn’t make it any less satisfying when it happens. The deep-rolling three-piece from Verona make their full-length debut with the 45-minute offering through Go Down Records, and the lurching continues in “The Tower of the Broken Bones” and “The Eclipse of the Empress,” which is the only cut under 10 minutes long but still keeps the slow-motion Sabbath rolling into the 15-minute closer “The Eremite Tired Out (Sweed Dreams)” (sic), which plays off some loud/quiet changes fluidly without interrupting the nod that’s so central to the entirety of the album. Look. These guys know the gods they’re worshiping — Sleep, Black Sabbath, Electric Wizard maybe, etc. — and they’re not trying to get away with saying they invented any of this. If you can’t get down with 45 minutes of slower-than-slow grooves, maybe you’re in the wrong microgenre. For me, it’s the lack of pretense that makes it.

Jahbulong on Thee Facebooks

Go Down Records website

 

Heavy Trip, Heavy Trip

heavy trip heavy trip

Heavy Trip. Four songs. Two sides. Three dudes. Instrumental. Accurately named. Yeah, you’ve heard this story before, but screw it. They start out nice and spacious on “Hand of Shroom” and they finish with high-speed boogie in the 13-minute “Treespinner,” and all in between Heavy Trip make it nothing less than a joy to go along wherever it is they’re headed. The Vancouver three-piece make earlier Earthless something of an elephant in the room as regards influences, but the unhurried groove in second cut “Lunar Throne” is a distinguishing factor, and even as “Mind Leaf” incorporates a bit more shove, it does so with enough righteousness to carry through. As a debut, Heavy Trip‘s Heavy Trip might come across more San Diego than Vancouver, but screw it. Dudes got jams like Xmas hams, and the chemistry they bring in holding listener attention with tempo changes throughout here speaks to a progressive edge burgeoning in their sound.

Heavy Trip on Thee Facebooks

Burning World Records on Bandcamp

 

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Roadburn Festival Issues 2021 Update

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 16th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Most years, Roadburn probably would’ve revealed at least one of several headliners by now for next April, but in case you haven’t heard, this isn’t most years. It’s a question as to whether or not Roadburn will even take place — or, for that matter, what shape it will take when and if it does — but the festival is attempting to make it clear that they’re doing everything they can in order to bring something together for the fans. It’s not just about brand preservation at this point. This is a lifesblood working to be saved.

Creative Director Walter Hoeijmakers, who is the final word on all things Roadburn, has mentioned doing a scaled-down “COVID-proof” edition of the festival in Tilburg that, as noted below, “will be accessible whether you’re in Tilburg or somewhere else around the globe.” That says to me it’ll be streamed, which is something the fest probably should’ve been doing anyhow but of course requires its own complete infrastructure, never mind the fact that the photo pits are always crowded enough.

That said, it would be hard for me to articulate the sense of loss that accompanies the thought of not experiencing Roadburn for two years running. I prefer not to try.

There’s talk of ticket rollover to 2022, refunds going out in February for those who want them, and more below. Read carefully:

roadburn 2018 (Photo by Niels Vinck)

UPDATE ON ROADBURN 2021:

We’re aware that many people have been speculating about the practicalities around hosting Roadburn 2021 as we originally planned – with everything simply carried over from 2020. Despite encouraging news about vaccines we are just not in a position to assume that will be possible in four months from now.

We are currently planning a very much scaled down, COVID-proof version of Roadburn for April 2021, which will be accessible whether you’re in Tilburg or somewhere else around the globe. We’ll have more information on that in the new year…

What does this mean for people who still hold tickets for Roadburn 2020/21? We’re making this as simple as possible:

ROLLOVER – you’ve done it once, if you’d like to do it again and secure your ticket for Roadburn 2022 then you don’t need to do anything and your ticket will automatically rollover.

REFUNDS – if you would like a refund you can request one via Ticketmaster – ticket buyers will be receiving an email with all the links and info to do this.
Roadburn 2022 will take place between April 21-24.

You will have until February 10, 2021 to decide what you would like to do (if you do nothing, your ticket converts to a 2022 Roadburn ticket). Refunds – including those requested earlier this year – will take place on February 19, 2021.

If you booked a camping ticket of any sort or night bus ticket, this will be refunded at the same time in February, regardless of whether you roll over your festival ticket or not.

If you bought your ticket via Ticketswap you will need to reach out to them; we don’t have any arrangements with them directly.

Like many festivals, we are still facing tough decisions about how to progress in the face of an unpredictable, unprecedented pandemic. We have decided that we will not be rolling over the entire line up to 2022; it would be a huge risk and for many reasons it’s not practical to do so. However, we are in communication with bands, booking agents, labels etc to work out the best way to move forward. We have so many once-in-a-lifetime sets at Roadburn, and for some we’re going to have to wait a bit longer for those unique performances.

Thank you for your understanding and patience. Despite the silver lining of being able to connect with the Roadburn community this coming April, it is still with a sense of disbelief that we tackle each and every part of this endeavour. We hope you’re safe, well and finding solace in music, as we are.

– Walter, Becky & all at Roadburn.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1081424195382564/
https://www.facebook.com/roadburnfestival/
http://www.instagram.com/roadburnfest
http://www.roadburn.com

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Farer Premiere “Phanes” Video; Monad out Nov. 20

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 4th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

farer

About a year after announcing their name change from Menhir to Farer, the Dutch post-metallic noise trio will make their full-length debut Nov. 20 with Monad on Tartarus Records and Aesthetic Death Records. And for those who have followed them from that past incarnation to the new one, I’ll just note that we’re a long way away from “Mt. Aloha,” though even that song and video held a component of social commentary. Monad might too in its four-track/52-minute run, but one certainly would have to dig deeper in order to find it through the assault of sometimes caustic noise. Taking cues from vocally from the most biting moments of The Body and incorporating a bit of ritualism from European post-metal touchstones Amenra in the chants of the subsequen “Asulon” (14:19), “Phanes” opens Monad at 13:07 with as much crush of atmosphere as tone, duly bleak and draining.

The two songs together, “Phanes” and “Asulon” comprise a punishing side A, and while there’s some measure of letup within the tracks as Farer weave into and out of ambient stretches, even these are farer monadtense ahead of the explosion to come, an air of cerebral violence worked into the material that’s brutal in concept and patient in execution. To complement, “Moros” (12:10) and “Elpis” (13:04) flesh out their own blends of the harsh and sublime. In “Moros,” a line of keys or effects echoes horns atop a chugging low end, and as “Phanes” already brought Monad‘s “Stones From the Sky” moment — that most clarion of Neurosis riffs showing up transformed to suit Farer‘s needs — the band seems to relish in the subsequent freedom to explore beyond genre reaches. Tribal-esque drums cap “Moros” and bring the feedback-laced punishment of the first half of “Elpis,” as well as the crushing punishment of the second half — they play both kinds of music: punishing and punishing — the final march outward fading as it goes, leaving long echoes and a concluding dronescape.

It is a wonder how something with so much breadth can also feel claustrophobic, but such is anxiety and one need not look far to find it this week. “Phanes” has a formidable task in setting the tone of Monad, but in its patient sense of psychic break, there isn’t so much salvation as understanding to be had, and if you’ve ever felt like the bad voice is chasing you around the room, you already know that understanding has cathartic value.

PR wire info follows the video below.

Please enjoy:

Farer, “Phanes” official video premiere

The video for Phanes is a sprawling tryptic; A moving abstract brutalist painting showing corruption, atrophy and passing. It showcases an intricate relationship between creation and destruction, in which unnatural parasitic structures come into the inevitable collision with the sublunary.

Shots by Farer
Editing Arjan van Dalen
Special thanks to Dianne and Thijs

Shot at landartworks ‘RIFF, PD#18245’ & ‘Deltawerk’ , Flevoland / NL, and in nature reserve ‘Peazemerlannen’ , Friesland / NL

Dutch doom/noise trio Farer create an imposing discord of severe, caustic bass textures, harrowing vocals and winding drums. The band, featuring members of Ortega, was originally founded as MENHIR in 2013, but chose Farer as their new moniker mid 2019, after spending two and a half years of writing and recording their debut record Monad. By taking time to further explore the possibilities of being a band with two bass players and the absence of a guitar, the record exhibits the bands evolution into a new entity thoroughly. Meaning, carefully crafted, drawn-out, oppressive and compelling songs.

Out of nothing, nothing becomes.

Farer is:
Frank de Boer – Bass/Vocals
Arjan van Dalen – Bass/Vocals
Sven Jurgens – Drums/Percussion

Farer on Thee Facebooks

Farer on Instagram

Farer on Bandcamp

Tartarus Records webstore

Aesthetic Death Records webstore

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Komatsu Sign to Heavy Psych Sounds; New Album Preorders This Week

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 20th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Let’s assume that with the advent of preorders for the next Komatsu record later this week will come the details about the album itself, probably also the cover art. Tracked pre-lockdown, the upcoming long-player from the Eindhoven-based four-piece is the follow-up to 2018’s Argonauta-issued A New Horizon (review here) and will mark the band’s debut on Heavy Psych Sounds. Though new to the label, Komatsu have appeared at at least one Heavy Psych Sounds fest in their decade together, and have done a wide swath of touring besides. One expects that thread to continue once circumstances permit.

So, while this news is more about background than details of the due-next-year album, you know I like it when cool stuff happens to good bands. Accordingly, here you go:

komatsu

Heavy Psych Sounds to announce a new band signing: Dutch heavy rockers KOMATSU!!!

ALBUM PRESALE STARTS: OCTOBER 22nd

Komatsu is formed early 2010. Members of locally acclaimed bands from Eindhoven Rock City joined forces. Their years of music experience in all kinds of bands and individual creativity, created a brutal mix of sludge, stoner and metal
.. KOMATSU is born!

The band released a self-titled EP in 2011. After that, they focused on live shows and writing material for their first full length album. “Manu Armata” saw the daylight in February of 2012 and was instantly well received by the international press. It got raving reviews and Komatsu’s music style was compared to bands like Queens Of The Stone Age, Torche, Mastodon, Monster Magnet and Karma to Burn.

Over the past years Komatsu has shown growth and was asked to support internationally well-known bands like Truckfighters (SWE) and a wide range of bands from the US: Karma to Burn, The Sword, Red Fang, Clutch, Nashville Pussy, High on Fire, Corrosion of Conformity and Baroness. They also performed at the official Queens Of The Stone Age after party in the Effenaar in Eindhoven. In 2014 they went on a European tour with none other than John Garcia (Vista Chino, ex-Kyuss, Hermano, Unida and Slo Burn) and played 32 shows in 13 countries. In 2015 Komatsu went on tour with another Palm Desert scene stoner hero: Nick Oliveri’s band Mondo Generator (USA).

“Recipe For Murder One” was released September 2016 and showed that the band gained confidence and experience. On the album you can hear Nick Oliveri on vocals on two songs. The album took the band on various tours throughout Europe with Duel (USA) in October 2016 and the Freeks (with Ruben Romano, ex-Fu Manchu) in March 2017. The album even took Komatsu to Brazil for a stand alone tour. The album appeared in several annual lists of best albums of 2016, and the song “Lockdown” (with a guest appearance by Nick Oliveri on vocals (ex-Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age) was nominated by 3voor12 as song of the year.

After playing 85 shows in France, Germany, Belgium. Italy, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Brazil and Austria in support of the album “Recipe for murder one”, Komatsu entered the Void Studio with producer Pieter Kloos to record “A New Horizon”. This album was released in January 2018 and marked their return to Europe and Brazil for several tours. Komatsu supported Brant Bjork in their hometown and with that completed a straight quartet: they played with all four ex-members of Kyuss (Garcia, Oliveri, Bjork, Homme).

After their latest European stand alone tour in December 2019, Komatsu felt it was time to record a new studio album. In February/March 2020 the Super Massive Mother Sludgers recorded a new studio album, this time at Studio Iglesias, Eindhoven.
The new album is recorded and produced by Peter van Elderen (Peter Pan Speedrock) and Komatsu and is mastered by Pieter Kloos. The artwork is made by Lotte Voorhoeve. The album was recorded just before the Covid-19 pandemic and will be released at the beginning of 2021 at Heavy Psych Sounds.

With 9 new killer songs, Komatsu is more than ready and waiting to hit the road again!

KOMATSU is:
Mo Truijens (vocals/guitar)
Mathijs Bodt (guitar)
Martijn Mansvelders (bass)
Jos Roosen (drums)

https://www.facebook.com/komatsurock/
https://www.instagram.com/komatsurock/
http://komatsu.bandcamp.com/
http://www.komatsurock.com/
https://www.facebook.com/HEAVYPSYCHSOUNDS
http://www.heavypsychsounds.com
https://heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com

Komatsu, “A New Horizon” official video

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Quarterly Review: The Pilgrim, Polymoon, Doctors of Space, Merlock, Sun Dial, Saturn’s Husk, Diggeth, Horizon, Limousine Beach, The Crooked Whispers

Posted in Reviews on October 12th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Well, the weekend’s over and it’s time to wrap up the Quarterly Review. Rest assured, I wrote the following during my copious weekend leisure time, resting on the side of a heated Olympic-size pool with a beverage nearby. It definitely wasn’t four in the morning on a Sunday or anything. If I haven’t gotten the point across yet, I hope you’ve found something amid this massive swath of records that has resonated with you. By way of a cheap plug, I’ll be featuring audio from a lot of these bands on the Gimme Metal show this Friday, 5PM Eastern, if you’re up for tuning in.

Either way, thanks for reading and for being a part of the whole thing. Let’s wrap it up.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

The Pilgrim, …From the Earth to the Sky and Back

the pilgrim from the earth to the sky and back

Lest he be accused of laziness, Gabriele Fiori — also of Black Rainbows, Killer Boogie and the head of the Heavy Psych Sounds label, booking agency and festival series — made his solo debut as The Pilgrim with Spring 2019’s Walking into the Forest (review here). Joined by Black Rainbows drummer Filippo Ragazzoni, Fiori ups the scale of the journey with the second The Pilgrim LP, …From the Earth to the Sky and Back. Richer in arrangement, bolder in craft and more confident in performance, the album runs 14 songs and 50 minutes still largely based around an acoustic acid rock foundation, but with a song like “Riding the Horse” tapping ’70s singer-songwriter vibes while “Cuba” touches on Latin percussion and guitar and “Space and Time” journeying out near the record’s end with waves of synthesizer, it seems The Pilgrim isn’t so willing to be pigeonholed. So much the better.

The Pilgrim on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

There is an undercurrent of extremity to the debut release from Polymoon, who hail from the psychedelic hotbed that is Tampere, Finland. The six-song/42-minute Caterpillars of Creation turns in opener “Silver Mt.” to fervent guitar push or from freaked-out cosmic prog into drifting post-universe exploration, setting the stage for the dynamic that unfolds throughout. The wash early in the second half of “Lazaward” is glorious, and it’s not the first or the last time Polymoon go to that adrenaline-pumping well, but the serenity that caps that song and seems to continue into “Malamalama” in closing side A is no less effective. “Helicaling” mounts tension in its early drumming but finally releases it later, and “Neitherworld” gives Caterpillars of Creation‘s most fervent thrust while closer “Metempsychosis” rounds out with a fitting sense of dissipation. As a first album/first release, it is particularly stunning, and to make it as plain as possible, I will think less of any list of 2020’s best debut albums that leaves out Polymoon.

Polymoon on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records website

 

Doctors of Space, First Treatment

doctors of space first treatment

The two-piece comprised of Martin Weaver (ex-Wicked Lady) and synthesist Scott “Dr. Space” Heller (Øresund Space Collective, Black Moon Circle, etc.) position First Treatment as their proper studio debut, and it certainly hits its marks in galaxial adventuring well enough to qualify as such, but the duo have been on a creative splurge throughout this year — even in lockdown — and so the six songs here are also born out of the work they’ve been doing since releasing their debut single “Ghouls ‘n’ Shit” (video premiere here) late last year. The album launches with “Journey to Enceladus,” which boasts drum programming by Weaver and though one of the movements in the 21-minute “Into the Oort Cloud” is based around beats, the bulk of First Treatment is purely a work of guitar and synth, and it basks in the freedom that being so untethered inherently brings. Running an hour long, it’s improvisational nature isn’t going to be for everyone, but Heller and Weaver make a strong argument that maybe it should be.

Doctors of Space on Thee Facebooks

Space Rock Productions website

 

Merlock, That Which Speaks

merlock that which speaks

Who’s ready for a New Wave of PNW Fuckery? That’s right folks, the NWOPNWF has arrived and it’s Spokane, Washington’s Merlock leading the sometimes-awfully-punk-sometimes-awfully-metal-but-somehow-also-always-sludge charge. Aggressive and damning in lyrics, swapping between raw screams, grows, shouts and cleaner vocals and unhinged in terms of its genre loyalties, That Which Speaks seems to find the “melt faces” setting wherever it goes, and though there’s a sense of the four-piece feeling out what works best for them stylistically, the sometimes frantic, sometimes willfully awkward transitions — as in second cut “Prolapse” — serve the overall purpose of undercutting predictability. Eight-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) “Idolon” stomps and shoves and gnashes and nasties its way through, and that’s the modus across what follows, though the scream-along headbanger “Vessel” somehow seems even rawer, and though it ends by floating into oblivion, the start of “Condemnation” heavy fuckin’ metal to me. You never know quite where Merlock are going to hit next, and that’s the joy of the thing. May they remain so cacophonous.

Merlock on Thee Facebooks

Merlock on Bandcamp

 

Sun Dial, Mind Control: The Ultimate Edition

sun dial mind control

Long-running UK psychedelic rockers Sun Dial — led by founding guitarist/vocalist Gary Ramon — released Mind Control in 2012. Sulatron Records picked it up in 2015, and now, five years after that, the same label presents Mind Control: The Ultimate Edition, a 2CD version of the original LP-plus-bonus-tracks reissue that brings the total runtime of the release to a well-beyond-manageable 98 minutes of lysergic experimentation. A full 20 tracks are included in the comprehensive-feeling offering, and from early mixes to alternative takes and lost tracks, and if this isn’t the ‘ultimate’ version of Mind Control, I’m not sure what could be, notwithstanding a complete-studio-sessions box set. Perhaps as a step toward that, Mind Control: The Ultimate Edition gives an in-depth look at a vastly underappreciated outfit and is obviously put together as much for the label as by it. That is to say, you don’t put out a reissue like this unless you really love the original record, and if Sulatron loving a record isn’t enough endorsement for you, please turn in your mushrooms on your way out the door.

Sun Dial on Thee Facebooks

Sulatron Records webstore

 

Saturn’s Husk, The Conduit

Saturns Husk The Conduit

Immersion is the goal of Saturn’s Husk‘s third long-player, The Conduit, and the Riga, Latvia, instrumentalist trio accomplish it quickly with the fluid riffs that emerge from the drone-based intro “Death of Imaginary Lights” and the subsequent 10-minute opener “Black Nebula.” At nine songs and 63 minutes, the album is consuming through the welcome nodder “The Heavenly Ape,” the especially-doomed “The Ritual” and the more mellow-float centerpiece “Spectral Haze,” while “Mycelium Messiah” brings more straight-ahead fuzz (for a time) and drones on either side surround the 10:35 “Sand Barrows,” the latter serving as the finale “A Shattered Visage” quoting Percy Bysshe Shelley and the former “City of the Djinn” running just a minute-plus but still doing enough to reset the brain from where “Mycelium Messiah” left it. Almost functioning as two albums side-by-side with “Spectral Haze” as the dividing point, The Conduit indeed seems to join various sides together, with a depth to coincide that invites the listener to explore along with it.

Saturn’s Husk on Thee Facebooks

Saturn’s Husk on Bandcamp

 

Diggeth, Gringos Galacticos

diggeth gringos galacticos

Landing a punch of classic metal to go along with its heavy-bottomed groove, Diggeth‘s Gringos Galacticos — one supposes the title ‘Spacecrackers’ was taken — was released by the Dutch trio in 2019 and receives a US limited vinyl edition thanks to Qumran Records. One finds some similar guitar heroics to those of Astrosoniq‘s more straightforward moments, but Diggeth‘s focus remains on hookmaking for the duration, offering hints of twang and acoustics in “In the Wake of Giants” and tipping a hat southwestward in “Three Gringos,” but “Straight-Shooter” is willfully breaks out its inner Hetfield and even as the penultimate “Unshackled” departs for a quieter break, it makes its way back in time for the big finish chorus, adding just a touch of Candlemass grandiosity for good measure before the harmonica-laced closing title-track rounds out with its dynamic spacey weirdness, the name of the album repeating itself in an answer to the Stephen Hawking sample that started the voyage on its way.

Diggeth on Thee Facebooks

Qumran Records website

 

Horizon, The White Planet Patrol

horizon the white planet patrol

Cursed Tongue Records has the vinyl here, and Three Moons the tape, and the CD will arrive through Aladeriva Records, La Rubia Producciones, Aneurisma Records, Surnia Records and Violence in the Veins — so yes, Horizon‘s third album, The White Planet Patrol is well backed. Fair enough for the Kyuss-via-BlackRainbows vibes of “End of Utopia” or the initial charge and flow of “The Backyard” that sets the Alicante, Spain, trio on their way. “King Serpent” and “Death & Teddies” bring well-crafted fuzz to bear, and “Blind World” effectively layers vocals in its chorus to coincide, but the more laid back roll of the title-cut is an unmistakable highlight. Shades of mid-paced Nebula surface in “Meet the Forest” later on, but Horizon are part of a tradition of heavy bands in Alicante and they know it. The smoothness of their tone and delivery speaks volumes on its own in that regard, never mind the actual songwriting, which also leaves nothing to be desired.

Horizon on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records webstore

 

Limousine Beach, Stealin’ Wine + 2

Limousine Beach Stealin Wine

Debut EP from Limousine Beach out of Pittsburgh, and if the three guitars involved don’t push it over the top, certainly the vocal harmonies get that particular job done. You got six minutes for three songs? Yeah, obviously. They scorch through “Tiny Hunter” to close out, but it’s in the leadoff title-track that Stealin’ Wine + 2 sees the Dave Wheeler-fronted outfit land its most outrageous chorus, just before they go on to find a middle-ground between KISS and Thin Lizzy on “Hear You Calling.” The harmonies open and are striking from the outset, but it’s in how they’re arranged around the standalone parts from Wheeler (also Outsideinside, ex-Carousel) that the outfit’s truest potential is shown. Issued through Tee Pee Records, Stealin’ Wine + 2 is the kind of thing you’d pick up at a show in a normal year and then feel way ahead of everyone else when the LP finally hits. Not a normal year, obviously, but Limousine Beach are serving due notice just the same. In six minutes, no less.

Limousine Beach on Thee Facebooks

Tee Pee Records website

 

The Crooked Whispers, Satanic Melodies

the crooked whispers satanic melodies

I’m sure a lot of records show up at Satan’s door with notes, like, “Dear sir, please find the enclosed submitted for your approval,” but it’s not hard to imagine Beelzebub himself getting down with the filth-coated sludge and rolling doom unfurled across The Crooked Whispers‘ debut offering, Satanic Melodies, marked by hateful, near-blackened screams from Anthony Gaglia and the plodding riffs of Chad Davis (Hour of 13, et al). The title-track is longest at 8:23 and in addition to featuring Ignacio De Tommaso‘s right-on bass tone in its midsection, it plays out early like Weedeater sold their collective soul, and drifts out where earlier pieces “Sacrifice” and “Evil Tribute” and “Profane Pleasure” held their roll for the duration. Stretches of clean-vocal cultistry add to the doomier aspects, but The Crooked Whispers seem to care way less about genre than they do about worshiping the devil, and that unshakable faith behind them, the rest seems to fall into place in accordingly biting fashion.

The Crooked Whispers on Thee Facebooks

The Crooked Whispers on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin, Cruthu, Sólstafir, ILS, Bismut, Cracked Machine, Megadrone, KLÄMP, Mábura, Astral Sleep

Posted in Reviews on October 8th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

We’ve reached the portion of the Quarterly Review wherein I would no longer know what day it is if I didn’t have my notes to help me keep track. I suppose it doesn’t matter — the day, that is — since it’s 10 records either way, but I’d hate to review the same albums two days in a row or something. Though, come to think of it, that might be a fun experiment sometime.

Not today. Today is another fresh batch of 10 on the way to 60 by next Monday. We’ll get there. Always do. And if you’re wondering, today’s Thursday. At least that’s what I have in my notes.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin, Stygian Bough Vol. I

bell witch aerial ruin Stygian Bough Volume 1

The collaborative effort Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin and their 64-minute full-length, Stygian Bough Vol. I — the intention toward future output together hinted at in the title already confirmed by the group(s) — is a direct extension of what Aerial Ruin, aka Erik Moggridge, brought to the last Bell Witch album, 2017’s Mirror Reaper (review here), in terms of complementing the crushing, emotionally resonant death-doom of the Washington duo with morose folk vocal melody. Stygian Bough Vol. I is distinguished by having been written by the two-plus-one-equals-three-piece as a group, and accordingly, it more fluidly weaves Moggridge‘s contributions into those of Bell Witch‘s Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman, resulting in an approach like if Patrick Walker from Warning had joined Thergothon. It’s prevailing spirit is deep melancholy in longer pieces like “The Bastard Wind” and “The Unbodied Air,” both over 19 minutes, while it might be in “Heaven Torn Low I (The Passage)” and “Heaven Torn Low II (The Toll)” that the trio most effectively bring their intent to life. Either way, if you’re in, be ready to go all the way in, but know that it’s well worth doing so.

Bell Witch on Thee Facebooks

Aerial Ruin on Thee Facebooks

Profound Lore Records website

 

Cruthu, AthrĂș Crutha

cruthu AthrĂș Crutha

Traditional doom with flourish both of noise and NWOBHM guitars — that turn in the second half of opener “Transformation” is like a dogwhistle for Iron Maiden fans — I hear Cruthu‘s second album, AthrĂș Crutha, and all I can think of are label recommendations. The Michigan outfit’s 2017 debut, The Angle of Eternity (review here), was eventually issued on The Church Within, and that’d certainly work, but also VĂĄn Records, Shadow Kingdom, and even Cruz Del Sur seem like fitting potential homes for the righteousness on display across the vinyl-ready six-song/39-minute outing, frontman Ryan Evans commanding in presence over the reverb-loaded classic-style riffs of guitarist Dan McCormick and the accompanying gallop in Matt Fry‘s drums given heft by Derek Kasperlik‘s bass. Like the opener, “Necromancy” and “Dimensional Collide” move at a good clip, but side B’s “The Outsider” and closer “Crown of Horns” slow things down following the surprisingly rough-edged “Beyond the Pale.” One way or the other, it’s all doomed and so are we.

Cruthu on Thee Facebooks

Cruthu on Bandcamp

 

SĂłlstafir, Endless Twilight of Codependent Love

SĂłlstafir endless twilight of codependent love

Whereas 2017’s Berdreyminn (review here) existed in the shadow of 2014’s Ótta (review here), Endless Twilight of Codependent Love brings Iceland’s SĂłlstafir to a new place in terms of their longer-term progression. It is their first album with an English title since 2005’s Masterpiece of Bitterness, and though they’ve had English-language songs since then, the mellow “Her Fall From Grace” is obviously intended to be a standout here, and it is. On the nine-song/62-minute course of the album, however, it is one impression of many, and in the raging “Dionysus” and post-blackened “DrĂœsill,” 10-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Akkeri,” richly atmospheric “Rökkur,” goth-lounging “Or” and worthy finale “Úlfur,” SĂłlstafir remind of the richly individual nature of their approach. The language swaps could be reaching out to a broader, non-Icelandic-speaking audience. If so, it’s only in the interest of that audience to take note if they haven’t already.

SĂłlstafir on Thee Facebooks

Season of Mist website

 

ILS, Curse

ils curse

Curse is the first long-player from Portland, Oregon’s ILS, and it’s a rager in the PNW noise tradition, with uptempo, gonna-throw-a-punch-and-then-apologize riffs and basslines and swaps between semi-spoken shouts and vicious screams from Tom Glose (ex-Black Elk) that are precisely as jarring as they’re meant to be. I don’t think Curse is anyone’s first time at the dance — Glose, guitarist Nate Abner, bassist Adam Pike or drummer Tim Steiner — but it only benefits across its sans-bullshit 28-minute run by knowing what it wants to do. Its longest material, like the title-track or “Don’t Hurt Me,” which follows, or closer “For the Shame I Bring,” rests on either side of three and a half minutes, but some of the most brutal impressions are made in cuts like “It’s Not Lard but it’s a Cyst” or leadoff “Bad Parts,” which have even less time to waste but are no less consuming, particularly at high volume. The kind of record for when you want to assault yourself. And hey, that happens.

ILS on Thee Facebooks

P.O.G.O. Records on Bandcamp

 

Bismut, Retrocausality

bismut retrocausality

Apart from the consciously-titled three-minute noiseblaster finale “Antithesis” that’s clearly intended to contrast with what comes before it, Bismut‘s second LP for Lay Bare, Retrocausality, is made up of five extended instrumental pieces the shortest of which is just under 13 minutes long. The Nijmegen-based trio — guitarist Nik Linders, bassist Huibert der Weduwen, drummer Peter Dragt — build these semi-improvisational pieces on the foundation they set with 2018’s Schwerpunkt (review here), and their explorations through heavy rock, metal and psychedelia feel all the more cohesive as a song like “Vergangenheit” is nonetheless able to blindside with the heavy riff toward which it’s been moving for its entire first half. At 71 minutes total, it’s a purposefully unmanageable runtime, but as “PredvĂ­danie” imagines a psych-thrash and “Oscuramento” drones to its crashing finish, Bismut seem to be working on their own temporal accord anyhow. For those stuck on linear time, that means repeat listens may be necessary to fully digest, but that’s nothing to complain about either.

Bismut on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Cracked Machine, Gates of Keras

Cracked Machine Gates of Keras

UK instrumentalists Cracked Machine have worked relatively quickly over the course of their now-three albums to bring a sense of their own perspective to the tropes of heavy psychedelic rock. Alongside the warmth of tone in the guitar and bass, feeling drawn from the My Sleeping Karma/Colour Haze pastiche of progressive meditations, there is a coinciding edge of English heavy rock and roll that one can hear not so much in the drift of “Temple of Zaum” as in the push of “Black Square Icon,” which follows, as well as the subtle impatience of the drums on “October Dawn.” “Move 37,” on the other hand, is willfully speedier and more upbeat than much of what surrounds, but though opener/longest track (immediate points) “Cold Iron Light” hits 7:26, nothing on Gates of Keras sticks around long enough to overstay its welcome, and even in their deepest contemplations, the feeling of motion carries them and the listener effectively through the album’s span. They sound like a band realizing what they want to do with all the potential they’ve built up.

Cracked Machine on Thee Facebooks

Kozmik Artifactz website

PsyKa Records website

 

Megadrone, Transmissions From the Jovian Antennae

Megadrone Transmissions From the Jovian Antennae

From cinematic paranoia to consuming and ultra-slow rollout of massive tonality, the debut offering from Megadrone — the one-man outfit of former Bevar Sea vocalist Ganesh Krishnaswamy — stretches across 53 minutes of unmitigated sonic consumption. If nothing else, Krishnaswamy chose the right moniker for the project. The Bandcamp version is spread across two parts — “Transmission A” (21:45) and “Transmission B” (32:09) — and any vinyl release would require significant editing as well, but the version I have is one huge, extended track, and that feels like exactly how Transmissions From the Jovian Antennae was composed and is supposed to be heard. Its mind-numbing repetitions lead the listener on a subtle forward march — there are drums back in that morass somewhere, I know it — and the piece follows an arc that begins relatively quiet, swells in its midsection and gradually recedes again over its final 10 minutes or so. It goes without saying that a 53-minute work of experimentalist drone crushscaping isn’t going to be for the faint of heart. Bold favors bold.

Megadrone on Thee Facebooks

Megadrone on Bandcamp

 

KLÄMP, Hate You

klamp hate you

Sax-laced noise rock psychedelic freakouts, blown-out drums and shouts and drones, cacophonous stomp and chaotic sprawl, and a finale that holds back its payoff so long it feels cruel, KLÄMP‘s second album, Hate You, arrives less than a year after their self-titled debut, and perhaps there’s some clue as to why in the sheer mania of their execution. Hate You launches with the angularity of its 1:47 title-track and rolls out a nodding groove on top of that, but it’s movement from one part to another, one piece to another, is frenetic, regardless of the actual tempo, and the songs just sound like they were recorded to be played loud. Second cut “Arise” is the longest at 7:35 and it plays back and forth between two main parts before seeming to explode at the end, and by the time that’s done, you’re pretty much KLÄMPed into place waiting to see where the Utrecht trio go next. Oblivion wash on “An Orb,” the drum-led start-stops of “Big Bad Heart,” psych-smash “TJ” and that awaited end in “No Nerves” later, I’m not sure I have any better idea where that might be. That’s also what makes it work.

KLÄMP on Thee Facebooks

God Unknown Records website

 

MĂĄbura, Heni

MĂĄbura heni

Preceded by two singles, Heni is the debut EP from Rio de Janeiro psychedelic tonal worshipers MĂĄbura, and its three component tracks, “AnhangĂĄ,” “III/IV” and “Bong of God” are intended to portray a lysergic experience through their according ambience and the sheer depth of the riffs they bring. “AnhangĂĄ” has vocals following the extended feedback and drone opening of its first half, but they unfold as a part of the general ambience, along with the drums that arrive late, are maybe sampler/programmed, and finish by leading directly into the crash/fuzz launch of “III/IV,” which just before it hits the two-minute mark unfurls into a watershed of effects and nod, crashing and stomping all the while until everything drops out but the bass only to return a short time later with the Riff in tow. Rumbling into a quick fade brings about the toking intro of “Bong of God,” which unfolds accordingly into a riff-led noisefest that makes its point seemingly without saying a word. I wouldn’t call it groundbreaking, but it’s a first EP. What it shows is that MĂĄbura have some significant presence of tone and purpose. Don’t be surprised when someone picks them up for a release.

MĂĄbura on Thee Facebooks

MĂĄbura on Bandcamp

 

Astral Sleep, Astral Doom Musick

Astral Sleep Astral Doom Musick

It’s still possible to hear some of Astral Sleep‘s death-doom roots in their third album, Astral Doom Musick, but the truth is they’ve become a more expansive unit than that (relatively) simple classification than describe. They’re doom, to be sure, but there are progressive, psychedelic and even traditional doom elements at work across the record’s four-song/43-minute push, with a sense of conceptual composition coming through in “Vril” and “Inegration” in the first half of the proceedings while the nine-and-a-half-minute “Schwerbelastungskörper” pushes into the darkest reaches and closer “Aurinko ja Kuu” harnesses a swirling progressive spread that’s dramatic unto its last outward procession and suitably large-sound in its production and tone. For a band who took eight years to issue a follow-up to their last full-length, Astral Sleep certainly have plenty to offer in aesthetic and craft. If it took them so long to put this record together, their time wasn’t wasted, but it’s hard to listen and not wonder where their next step might take them.

Astral Sleep on Thee Facebooks

Astral Sleep on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Steve Von Till, Cyttorak, Lambda, Dee Calhoun, Turtle Skull, Diuna, Tomorrow’s Rain, Mother Eel, Umbilichaos, Radar Men From the Moon

Posted in Reviews on October 5th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Oh hi there. It’s Quarterly Review time again, and you know what that means. 50 records between now and Friday — and I may or may not extend it through next Monday as well; I think I have enough of a backlog at this point to do so. It’s really just a question of how destroyed I am by writing about 10 different records every day this week. If past is prologue, that’s fairly well destroyed. But I’ve yet to do a Quarterly Review and regret it when it’s over, and like the last one, this roundup of 50 albums is pretty well curated, so it might even be fun to go through. There’s a thought. In any case, as always, I hope you find something you enjoy, and thank you for reading if you do or as much as you do.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Steve Von Till, No Wilderness Deep Enough

steve von till no wilderness deep enough

Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till seems to be bringing some of the experimentalism that drives his Harvestman project into the context of his solo work with No Wilderness Deep Enough, his fifth LP and first since 2015’s A Life unto Itself (review here). Drones and melodic synth backs the deceptively-titled “The Old Straight Track,” and where Von Till began his solo career 20 years ago with traditional folk guitar, if slower, on these six tracks, he uses that meditative approach as the foundation for an outward-reaching 37-minute run, incorporating ethereal strings among the swirls of “Shadows on the Run” and finishing with the foreboding hum of “Wild Iron.” Opener “Dreams of Trees” establishes the palette’s breadth with synthesized beats alongside piano and maybe-cello, but it’s Von Till‘s voice itself that ties the material together and provides the crucial human presence and intimacy that most distinguishes the offerings under his own name. Accompanied by Von Till‘s first published book of poetry, No Wilderness Deep Enough is a portrait of the unrelenting creative growth of its maker.

Steve Von Till on Thee Facebooks

Neurot Recordings on Bandcamp

 

Cyttorak, Simultaneous Invocation of Apocalyptic Harbingers

Cyttorak Simultaneous Invocation of Apocalyptic Harbingers

Take a breath before you hit play only to have it punched right out from your solar plexus by the brutalist deathsludge Cyttorak cleverly call “slowerviolence.” Dominated by low end and growls, screams, and shouts, the lumbering onslaught is the second standalone EP for the three-piece who hail from scenic Pawtucket, Rhode Island (former home of the PawSox), and throughout its six-track run, the unit conjure an unyieldingly punishing tonal morass set to aggressive purpose. That they take their name from the Marvel Universe character who controls X-Men villain Juggernaut should not be taken as coincidence, since their sound indeed seems intended to put its head down and smash through walls and/or anything else that might be in its path in pursuit of its quarry. With Conan-esque lyrical minimalism, the songs nonetheless give clues to their origins — “Royal Shokan Dismemberment” refers to Goro from Mortal Kombat, and finale “Domination Lord of Coldharbour” to Skyrim (which I still regret not playing) — but if you consider comics or video games to be lighter fare, first off, you’re working with an outdated mentality, and second, Cyttorak would like a bit of your time to smother you with volume and ferocity. They have a new split out as well, both on tape.

Cyttorak on Thee Facebooks

Tor Johnson Records website

 

Lambda, Heliopolis

lambda heliopolis

Also signified by the Greek letter from which they take their moniker, Czech four-piece Lambda represent a new age of progressive heavy post-rock. Influences from Russian Circles aren’t necessarily surprising to find coursing through the instrumental debut full-length, Heliopolis, but there are shades of Elder as well behind the more driving riffs and underlying swing of “Space Express,” which also featured on the band’s 2015 EP of the same name. The seven-minute “El Sonido Nuevo” did likewise, but older material or newer, the album’s nine-song procession moves toward its culminating title-track through the grace of “Odysea” and the intertwining psychedelic guitars of “Milkyway Phaseshifter” with an overarching atmosphere of the journey to the city of the sun being undertaken. And when they get there, at the closer, there’s an initial sense of peace that gives way to some of the most directly heavy push Heliopolis has to offer. Payoff, then. So be it. Purposeful and somewhat cerebral in its execution, the DIY debut brings depth and space together to immersive effect.

Lambda on Thee Facebooks

Lambda on Bandcamp

 

Dee Calhoun, Godless

dee calhoun godless

Following his 2016 debut, Rotgut (review here) and 2018’s Go to the Devil (review here), Godless is the third full-length from former Iron Man and current Spiral Grave frontman Dee Calhoun, and its considerable 63-minute runtime finds him working in multiple directions while keeping his underlying roots in acoustic-based heavy metal. Certainly “To My Boy” — and Rob Calhoun has appeared on his father’s releases before as well — has its basis in familial expression, but its pairing with “Spite Fuck” is somewhat curious. Meanwhile, “Hornswoggled” cleverly samples George W. Bush with a laugh track, and “Here Under Protest,” “The Greater Evil,” “Ebenezer” and “No Justice” seem to take a worldly view as well. Meanwhile again, “Godless,” “The Day Salvation Went Away” and “Prudes, Puritanicals and Puddles of Piss” make their perspective nothing if not plain for the listener, and the album ends with the two-minute kazoo-laced gag track “Here Comes the Bride: A Tale From Backwater.” So perhaps scattershot, but Godless is nonetheless Calhoun‘s most effective outing yet in terms of arrangements and craft, and shows him digging further into the singer-songwriter form than he has up to now, sounding more comfortable and confident in the process.

Dee Calhoun on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records website

 

Turtle Skull, Monoliths

Turtle Skull Monoliths

Melodic vocal lines weave together and float over alternately weighted and likewise ethereal guitars on Turtle Skull‘s second album, Monoliths. The percussion-inclusive (tambourine, congas, rain stick, etc.) Sydney-based heavy psychedelic outfit create an immersive wash that makes the eight-song/55-minute long-player consuming for the duration, and while there are moments of clarity to be found throughout — the steady snare taps of “Why Do You Ask?” for example — but the vast bulk of the LP is given to the overarching flow, which finds progressive/space-rock footing in the 11-plus minutes of finale “The Clock Strikes Forever” and is irresistibly consuming on the drifting wash of “Rabbit” or the lysergic grunge blowout of “Who Cares What You Think?,” which gives way to the choral drone of “Halcyon” gorgeously en route through the record’s back half. It’s not the highest profile heavy psych release of 2020, but neither is it to be overlooked for the languid stretch of “Leaves” at the outset or the fuzz-drenched roll in the penultimate “Apple of Your Eye.”

Turtle Skull on Thee Facebooks

Art as Catharsis on Bandcamp

Kozmik Artifactz website

 

Diuna, Golem

diuna golem

In some ways, the dichotomy of Diuna‘s 2019 sophomore full-length, Golem, is set by its first two tracks, the 24-second intro “Menu” and the seven-minute “Jarmark CudĂłw” that follows, each longer song throughout is prefaced by an introduction or interlude, varying in degrees of experimentation. That, however, doesn’t cover the outsider vibes the Polish trio bring to bear in those longer songs themselves, be it “Jarmark CudĂłw” devolving into a post-Life of Agony noise rock roll, or the thrust in “Frank Herbert” cut into starts and stops and shouting madness. Heavy rock, noise, sludge, post-this-or-that, it doesn’t matter by the end of the 12-track/44-minute release, because Diuna establish such firm control over the proceedings and make so clear the challenge to the listener to keep up that it’s only fun to try. It might take a couple listens to sink in, but the more attention one gives Golem, the more one is going to be rewarded in the end, and I don’t just mean in the off-kilter fuckery of closer “Pan Jezus Idzie Do Wojska.”

Diuna on Thee Facebooks

Diuna on Bandcamp

 

Tomorrow’s Rain, Hollow

tomorrows rain hollow

“Ambitious” doesn’t begin to cover it. With eight songs (plus a bonus track) and 11 listed guest musicians, the debut full-length, Hollow, from Tel Aviv-based death-doomers Tomorrow’s Rain seems to be setting its own standard in that regard. And quite a list it is, with the likes of Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride, Greg Mackintosh of Paradise Lost, Fernando Ribeiro of Moonspell, Mikko Kotamaki of Swallow the Sun, and so on, it is a who’s-who of melodic/gothic death-doom and the album lives up to the occasion in terms of the instrumental drama it presents. Some appear on one track, some on multiple tracks — Ribeiro and Kotamaki both feature on “Misery Rain” — and despite the constant shifts in personnel with only one of the eight tracks completely without an outside contributor, the core six-piece of Tomorrow’s Rain are still able to make an impression of their own that is bolstered and not necessarily overwhelmed by the extravagant company being kept throughout.

Tomorrow’s Rain on Thee Facebooks

AOP Records website

 

Mother Eel, Svalbard

mother eel svalbard

Mother Eel‘s take on sludge isn’t so much crushing as it is caustic. They’re plenty heavy, but their punishment isn’t just meted out through tonal weight being brought down on your head. It’s the noise. It’s the blown-out screams. It’s the harshness of the atmosphere in which the entirety of their debut album, Svalbard, resides. Five tracks, 33 minutes, zero forgiveness. One might be tempted to think of songs like “Erection of Pain” as nihilistic fuckall, but that seems incorrect. Nah, they mean it. Fuckall, yeah. But fuckall as ethos. Fuckall manifest. So it goes through “Alpha Woman” and “Listen to the Elderly for They Have Much to Teach,” which ends in a Primitive Man-ish static assault, and the lumbering finish “Not My Shade,” which assures that what began on “Sucking to Gain” half an hour earlier ends on the same anti-note: a disaffected malevolence writ into sheer sonic unkindness. There is little letup, even in the quiet introductions or transitions, so if you’re looking for mercy, don’t bother.

Mother Eel on Thee Facebooks

Mother Eel on Redbubble

 

Umbilichaos, Filled by Empty Spaces

Umbilichaos Filled by Empty Spaces

The four-song/39-minute atmospheric sludge long-player Filled by Empty Spaces is listed by Brazilian solo outfit Umbilichaos as being the third part of, “the Tetralogy of Loneliness.” If that’s the emotion being expressed in the noise-metal post-Godflesh chug-and-shout of “Filled by Empty Spaces Pt. 02,” then it is loneliness viscerally presented by founding principal and multi-instrumentalist Anna C. Chaos. The feel throughout the early going of the release is plodding and agonized in kind, but in “Filled by Empty Spaces Pt. 01” and “Filled by Empty Spaces Pt. 03” there is some element of grim, crusted-over psychedelia happening alongside the outright dirge-ism, though the latter ultimately wins out in the four-minute instrumental capper “Disintegration.” One way or the other, Chaos makes her point through raw tonality and overarching intensity of purpose, the compositions coming across simultaneously unhinged and dangerously under control. There are many kinds of heavy. Filled by Empty Spaces is a whole assortment of them.

Umbilichaos on Thee Facebooks

Sinewave website

 

Radar Men From the Moon, The Bestial Light

radar men from the moon the bestial light

Fueled by avant grunge/noise impulsion, Radar Men From the Moon‘s latest foray to Planet Whothefuckknows arrives in the eight-song/41-minute The Bestial Light, a record alternately engrossing and off-putting, that does active harm when the sounds-like-it’s-skipping intro to “Piss Christ” comes on and then subsequently mellows out with psych-sax like they didn’t just decide to call the song “Sacred Cunt of the Universe” or something. Riffs, electronics, the kind of weirdness that’s too self-aware not to be progressive, Radar Men From the Moon take the foundation of experimentation set by Astrosoniq and mutate it via Swans into something unrecognizable by genre and unwilling to compromise its own direction. And no, by the time “Levelling” comes on to round out, there is no peace to be found, though perhaps a twisted kind of joy at the sheer postmodernism. They should score ballets with this stuff. No one would go, but three centuries from now, they’d be worshiped as gods. Chance of that anyway, I suppose.

Radar Men From the Moon on Thee Facebooks

Fuzz Club Records on Bandcamp

 

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