Quarterly Review: Carlton Melton, Crown, Noêta, Polymerase, Lucid Sins, Hekate, Abel Blood, Suffer Yourself, Green Dragon, Age Total

Posted in Reviews on July 5th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-fall-2016-quarterly-review

This will be a two-week Quarterly Review. That means this Monday to Friday and next Monday to Friday, 10 releases per day, totaling 100 by the time it’s done.

Me? I’m taking it one week, one day, one album at a time. It’s the only way to go and not have it seem completely insurmountable. But we’ll get through it all. I started out with the usual five days, and then I went to seven, then eight, and at that point I felt like I had a pretty good idea where things were headed. The last two days I filled up just at the end of last week. Some of it is I think a result of quarantine productivity, but there’s a glut of relevant stuff out now and some of it I’m catching up on, true, but some of it isn’t out yet either, so it’s a balance as ever. I keep telling myself I’m done with 2020 releases, but there’s one in here today. You know how it goes.

And since you do, I won’t delay further. Thanks in advance for reading if you do.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Carlton Melton, Night Pillers

carlton melton night pillers

Rangey mellow psych collected together with the natural shimmer of a Phil Manley (Trans Am) recording and a John McBain master, the new mini-LP from Mendocino medicine makers Carlton Melton is a 31-minute, five-song meditative joy. To wit, “Safe Place?” Is. “Morning Warmth?” Is, even with the foreboding march of drums behind it. And “Striatum,” which closes with interplay of keys and fuzzy leads and effects, giving a culminating seven-minute wash that doesn’t feel like it’s pushing far out so much as already gone upon arrival, indeed seems like a reward for any head or brain that’s managed to make it so far. Opener “Resemblance” brings four minutes of gentle drone to set the mood ahead of “Morning Warmth” — it might be sunrise, if we’re thinking of it that way — and centerpiece “High Noon Thirty” bridges krauty electronic beats and organic ceremony that feels both familiar and like the band’s own. They may pill at night, but Carlton Melton have a hell of a day here.

Carlton Melton on Facebook

Agitated Records website

 

Crown, The End of All Things

Crown The End of All Things

Weaving in and around genres with fluidity that’s tied together through dark industrial foundations, Crown are as much black metal as they are post-heavy, cinematic or danceable. “Gallow” or the earlier “Neverland” call to mind mid-period, electronica-fascinated Katatonia, but “Extinction” pairs this with a more experimental feel, opening in its midsection to more unsettling spaces ahead of the dance-ready finish. There’s nothing cartoonish or vamp about The End of All Things, which is the French outfit’s fourth album in 10 years, and it’s as likely to embrace pop (closer “Utopia”) as extremity (“Firebearer” just before), grim atmospherics (“Nails”) or textured acoustics (“Fleuve”), feeling remarkably unconcerned with genre across its 45 entrancing minutes, and remarkably even in its approach for a sound that’s still so varied. It’s not an easy listen front to back, but the challenge feels intentional and is emotional as much as cerebral in the craft and performance.

Crown on Facebook

Pelagic Records on Bandcamp

 

Noêta, Elm

Noêta elm

Swedish duo Noêta offer their second record for Prophecy Productions in Elm, comprising a deceptively efficient eight songs and 38 minutes that work in atmospheres of darker but not grim or cultish folk. Vocalist Êlea is very much a focal point in terms of performance, with Andris‘ instrumentals forming a backdrop that’s mournful on “Above and Below” while shimmering enough to bring affirmation to “As We Are Gone” a short while later ahead of the electrified layering in “Elm” and the particularly haunted-feeling closer “Elm II.” “As I Fall Silent” is a singularly spacious moment, but not the only one, as “Fade” complements with strings and outward-sounding guitar, and some of Elm‘s most affecting moments are its quietest stretches, as “Dawn Falls” proves at the outset and the whispers of “Elm” reaffirm on side B. Subdued but not lacking complexity, Noêta‘s songs make an instrument of mood itself and are pointedly graceful in doing so.

Noêta on Facebook

Prophecy Productions website

 

Polymerase, Unostentatious

Polymerase Unostentatious

Unostentatious, which is presumably not to say “humble,” may or may not be Polymerase‘s debut release, but it follows on from several years of inactivity on the part of the Philippines-based mostly-instrumentalist heavy psych trio. The band present four duly engaging and somewhat raw feeling jams, with a jump in volume as “Lightbringer//Lightgiver” picks up from “A Night with a Succubus” and opener “The Traveler” and a final touch of thickened, fuzzy sludge in the rolling “Green is the Color of Evil,” which closes at a lurch that comes across at significant remove from the title-hinted brightness of the song just before it. Uneven? Maybe, but not egregiously so, and if Polymerase are looking to give listeners an impression of their having a multifaceted sound, they most assuredly do. My question is over what span of time these tracks were recorded and what the group will do in moving forward from them, but I take the fact that I’m curious to find out at all as a positive sign of having interest piqued. Will hope for more.

Polymerase on Facebook

Polymerase on Bandcamp

 

Lucid Sins, Cursed!

lucid sins cursed

Lucid indeed. The band’s self-applied genre tag of “adult AOR” is more efficient a descriptor of their sound than anything I might come up with. Glasgow’s Lucid Sins released their acclaimed debut, Occultation, in 2014, and Cursed! is the exclamatory seven-years-later follow-up, bringing together classic progressive rock and modern cult heavy sensibilities with a focus on songwriting that’s the undercurrent from “Joker’s Dance” onward and which, as deep as “The Serpentine Path” or the title-track or “The Forest” might go, is never forgotten. To wit, the penultimate “By Your Hand” is a proto-everything highlight, stomping compared to the organ-prog “Sun and the Moon” earlier, but ultimately just as melodic and of enviable tonal warmth. Seven years is a long time between records, and maybe this material just took that long to put together, I don’t know, but I had no idea “cult xylophone” was a possibility until “The Devil’s Sign” came along, and now I’m not sure how I ever lived without it.

Lucid Sins on Facebook

Totem Cat Records store

 

Hekate, Sermons to the Black Owl

Hekate Sermons to the Black Owl

Australia’s history in heavy rock and roll is as long as that of heavy rock and roll itself and need not be recounted here, except to say that Hekate, from Canberra and Sydney, draw from multiple eras of it with their debut long-player, Sermons to the Black Owl, pushing ’70s boogie over the top with solos on “Carpathian Eagle” only after “Winter Void” and “Child of Black Magick” have seen the double-guitar-and-let’s-use-both four-piece update nascent doom vibes and “Burning Mask” has brought a more severe chug to the increasingly intense procession. A full production sound refuses to let the quick eight-tracker be anything other than modern, and though it’s only 28 minutes long, the aptly-titled “Acoustic Outro” feels earned atmospherically, even down to the early-feeling cold finish of “Cassowary Dreaming.” The balance may be then, then, then, and now, but the sense of shove that Hekate foster in their songs gives fresh urgency to the tenets of genre they seem to have adopted at will.

Hekate on Facebook

Black Farm Records store

 

Abel Blood, Keeping Pace with the Elephants

Abel Blood Keeping Pace with the Elephants

One does not evoke elephantine images on a heavy record, even on a debut release, if aural largesse isn’t a factor. New Hampshire trio Abel Blood — guitarist/vocalist Adam Joslyn, bassist Ben Cook, drummer Jim DeLuca — are raw in sound on their first EP, Keeping Pace with the Elephants, but the impact with which they land “The Day that Moby Died” at the outset is only encouraging, and to be sure, it’s not the thickest of their wares either. “Enemies” already pushes further, and as centerpiece “UnKnown Variant” would seem to date the effort in advance, it also serves the vital function of moving the EP in a different, more jangly, grungier direction, which is a valuable move with the title cut following behind, its massive cymbals and distorted wash building to a head in time for the nine-minute finale “Fire on the Hillside” to draw together both sides of the approach shown throughout into a parabolically structured jam the middle-placed surge of which passes quickly enough to leave the listener unsure whether it ever happened. They’re messing with you. Dig that.

Abel Blood on Facebook

Abel Blood on Bandcamp

 

Suffer Yourself, Rip Tide

Suffer Yourself Rip Tide

Begun in 2011 by guitarist/vocalist Stanislav Govorukha and based in Sweden by way of Poland and the Ukraine, death-doom lurchbringers Suffer Yourself are not strangers to longer-form material, but to my knowledge, “Spit in the Chasm” — the opening and longest track (immediate points) on their third record, Rip Tide — is the first time they’ve crossed the 20-minute mark. Time well spent, and by that I mean “brutally spent,” whether its the speedier chug that emerges from the willful slog of the extended piece’s first half or the viciously progressive lead work that tops the precise, cold end of the song that brings final ambience. Side B offers two shorter pieces in “Désir de Trépas Maritime (Au Bord de la Mer Je Veux Mourir),” laced with suitably mournful strings and a fair enough maritime sense of gothic drama emphasized by later spoken word and piano, and the brief, mostly-drone “Submerging,” which one assumes is the end of that plotline playing out. The main consumption though is in “Spit in the Chasm,” and the dimensions of that fissure are significant, figuratively and literally.

Suffer Yourself on Facebook

Aesthetic Death website

 

Green Dragon, Dead of the Night

Green Dragon Dead of the Night

High order Sabbathian doom rock from my own beloved Garden State, there’s very little chance I’m not going to dig Green Dragon‘s Dead of the Night, and true to type, I do. Presented by the band on limited vinyl after digital release late in 2020, the four-song, 24-minute outing brings guitarist/vocalists Zach Kurland and Ryan Lipynsky (the latter also adding keys and known for his work in Unearthly Trance, etc.), bassist Jennifer Klein and drummer Herbert Wiley to a place so dug into its groove it almost feels inappropriate to think of it as a peak in terms of their work to-date. They go high by going low, then. Fair enough. “Altered States” opens with a rollout of fuzz that miraculously avoids the trap sounding like Electric Wizard, while “Burning Bridges” murks out, “The Sad King” pushes speed a bit will still holding firm to nod and echo alike, and “Book of Shadows” plunges into effects-drenched noise like it was one of the two waterslides at the Maplewood community pool in summertime.

Green Dragon on Facebook

Green Dragon on Bandcamp

 

ÂGE TOTAL, ÂGE TOTAL

ÂGE ? TOTAL

The kind of record that probably won’t be heard by enough people but will inspire visceral loyalty in many of those who encounter it, the self-titled debut from French collaborative outfit Age Total — bringing together members from Endless Floods out of Bordeaux and Rouen’s Greyfell — is a grand and engrossing work that pushes the outer limits of doom and post-metal. Bookending opener “Amure” (14:28) and closer “The Songbird” (16:45) around the experimentalist “Carré” (4:06) and rumbling melodic death-doom of “Metal,” the album harnesses grandiosity and nuance to spare, with each piece feeling independently conceived and enlightening to musician and audience alike. It sounds like the kind of material they didn’t know they were going to come up with until they actually got together — whatever the circumstances of “together” might’ve looked like at the time — and the bridges they build between progressive metal and sheer weight of intention are staggering. However much hype it does or doesn’t have behind it, Age Total‘s Age Total is one of 2021’s best debut albums.

Endless Floods on Facebook

Greyfell on Facebook

Soza Label on Bandcamp

 

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Lucid Sins Announce Cursed LP out May 3; Stream “Joker’s Dance”

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 24th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

lucid sins

An awaited and exclamatory sophomore release from Glasgow two-piece Lucid Sins arrives May 3 in the form of Cursed! with the not-insignificant backing of Totem Cat Records. The label’s reputation for taste has earned it trust as far as I’m concerned, and if that’s what it takes to get you to click play on “Joker’s Dance,” which is the opening track and lead single from the album, then fine. Or maybe you just get excited about punctuated album titles. Really, whatever does the trick. The band released their first LP, Occultation, in late 2014, and they’re joined by a range of guests throughout the new one, which tells me that the classic ’70s proggy leanings of “Joker’s Dance” are perhaps just the beginning of what unfolds throughout the rest of what follows.

I remain a sucker for well executed retro heavy. Don’t care if you think it’s played out, don’t care if you think it sounds like Ghost. Whatever. Life is short. Take cool songs as they come.

From the PR wire:

lucid sins cursed

LUCID SINS to release new album ‘Cursed!’ this May 3rd on Totem Cat Records; first track streaming now

Seven years after their masterful debut album ‘Occultation’, Scottish 70s psychedelic and progressive rockers LUCID SINS are finally ready to deliver their new studio full-length ‘Cursed!’, due out May 3rd on Totem Cat Records. Stream their stomping first single “Joker’s Dance” now on Bandcamp!

From the riff-centric and silky 70s occult and psychedelic hymns of their impressive 2015 debut full-length ‘Occultation’, the Glasgow-based duo has morphed into a bigger and more ambitious beast to craft their sophomore album ‘Cursed!’. Inviting various musicians from their entourage to hop on the LUCID SINS train, the group delivers an organic and intrinsically more progressive 8-track, fueled by an intoxicating dose of keys and violins, liquid-fingered and at time jazz-tinged riffage and Andreas Jonsson’s overdubbed vocals, harking back to the likes of Wishbone Ash, Blue Öyster Cult or even The Doors in their more entrancing meanderings. With a surrealistic artwork from Britain’s early 20th century illustrator Alan Odle, ‘Cursed!’ makes for a must-have piece of 70s progressive rock.

‘Cursed!’ will be issued on May 3rd worldwide on vinyl, CD and digital through Totem Cat Records, with preorder starting on April 5th.

LUCID SINS New album ‘Cursed!’
Out May 3rd on Totem Cat Records
Preorder from April 5th at this location: https://totemcatrecords.bigcartel.com/

TRACK LISTING:
1. Joker’s Dance
2. The Serpentine Path
3. Sun and the Moon
4. The Devil’s Sign
5. Cursed
6. Snake Eyes
7. By Your Hand
8. The Forest

LUCID SINS ‘Cursed!’ Lineup
Andreas Jonsson — Vocals & Guitar
Joe Gallagher — Guitar
Martin « Eggy Beard » McKenna — Violin
Ruaraidh Sanachan — Guitar, Bass, Keys and Percussion
Sondre Berge Endegal — Bass
Stuart Coleman — Keys
Additional recording by Clark Neville

LUCID SINS is
Andreas Jonsson & Ruaraidh Sanachan

https://www.facebook.com/Lucid-Sins-101576834992445
https://www.instagram.com/lucid.sins/
https://lucidsins.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/totemcatrecords/
https://www.instagram.com/totemcatrecords/
http://totemcatrecords.bigcartel.com/

Lucid Sins, Cursed! (2021)

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ukmedsnorx.com/zopiclone
ukmedsnorx.com/zolpidem

Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

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

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

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

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

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

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

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

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

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

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

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

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

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

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

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

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

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

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

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

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

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2021

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Review & Track Premiere: Sons of Otis, Isolation

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 30th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Sons of Otis Isolation

[Click play above to stream ‘Blood Moon’ from Sons of Otis’ Isolation. Album is out Oct. 16 on Totem Cat Records. Preorders here.]

Like a great gurgling prehistoric beast lumbering and howling on the horizon, Toronto’s Sons of Otis return with six new songs bundled together and issued through Totem Cat Records as Isolation. Once exiles from the dissolution of Man’s Ruin Records, the Canadian trio offer blissful obliteration as an escape from the rigors of our age, and the looming threat they represent sonically comes to fruition across the righteously primitive 43 minutes the album runs. It’s been eight years since Sons of Otis — guitarist/vocalist Ken Baluke, bassist Frank Sargeant and drummer Ryan Aubin — put out 2012’s Seismic (review here, also here) as their third offering through Small Stone behind 2009’s Exiled (review here) and 2005’s X.

2018 saw the release of the limited live album, Live in Den Bosch (discussed here), as a beginning of the band’s relationship with Totem Cat that has also included reissues of their 1994 Paid to Suffer debut EP and follow-up debut LP, 1996’s Spacejumbofudge (discussed here), and Concrete Lo-Fi also backed a reissue of 2001’s Songs for Worship in 2017, but a dearth of new Sons of Otis has been a notable absence. Perhaps all the more because in the years since Seismic, a new generation of listeners has emerged hungry for precisely the kind of largesse of groove the band has so long had on offer. Add to that the automatic cred their years give them — Sons of Otis outlived grunge and they’ll outlive you too — and all the makings of well-earned weedian cult plaudits would seem to be in place.

Their methodology, long established, is not messed with on IsolationBaluke‘s throaty vocals — more “mucus” than “sludge” — echo up from a hazy nod of riff while languid pacing evokes doomed vibes. They might be doomed. We might all be doomed. The difference is they don’t care, and across the two sides of the LP, from the inward dive and purposeful beginning that the record gets with “Hopeless” to the plodding repurpose of Black Sabbath‘s “Black Sabbath” that is “Blood Moon,” they absolutely prove it.

And just who on or beyond earth could get away with brazenly, recognizably putting to use that most landmark of genre-making riffs? Well, Sons of Otis and pretty much nobody. As in the past they’ve donned works by Saint Vitus and Funkadelic, they inextricably make “Blood Moon” their own, and if you’re not on board with wherever they want to go by the time that song opens side B, you should probably just punch out. “Hopeless,” “JJ” (no relation) and “Trust” comprise the first half of Isolation and they are a willful slog through a mire of distortion, Baluke and Sargeant‘s tones a wash of low-end air-push, Aubin‘s toms an accompanying thud as Baluke intones, “Free my soul,” on the opener, soon enough to follow by referencing “Amazing Grace” in “JJ.”

None of the first three tracks touches nine minutes long, but the level of submersion Sons of Otis offer in their material is unmistakable. As an initial salvo, “Hopeless” and “JJ” are crawlingly slow — maybe anguished, but not entirely beaten down — and relentless in their paean to the riffs themselves. This may well be the band raising their collective hand to testify to the glory of their own process, and if so, it’s fairly enough earned, and the watch-your-brain-melt-because-yes-you-can-see-it effect on the listener is palpable.

At once huge and obfuscated, these first moments of Isolation play out as a single morass, and while “Trust” — shorter at 6:24 — ups the tempo to some degree in order to highlight its funkier wah riff, by then the record is more than 16 minutes deep into its run and, the vibe is set. One sincerely doubts the band would have it any other way, and if they did, would they still be Sons of Otis? I don’t know. But consider acts like Electric Wizard, Weedeater or Bongzilla — the latter two harsher vocally but all with well-known sounds. With any prior experience as a listener, you have a sense of what’s coming from a new release. Sons of Otis‘ sound operates in a similar fashion, but Isolation isn’t redundant either in the years it’s been since the band’s preceding album or on the level of its own songs.

sons of otis

Or rather, if it’s redundant, it’s gloriously redundant.

“Blood Moon” leads off Isolation‘s second half, as noted, and is followed by the LP’s two shortest tracks in “Ghost” and the closing instrumental wash that is “Theme II,” both on either side of six minutes long. In delivering to expectation, Sons of Otis nonetheless surpass it. After the thunderstomp that is “Blood Moon,” “Ghost” functions with a similar sense of repetitiveness, but more than any of the other tracks seems to put Aubin in the lead position. His drums start the song with two slow stick-clicks, and then even as the bass and guitar lurch to life, it’s the round-and-round-we-go tom fills that most distinguish the penultimate track.

A tension set early is never really released, and as drawling spaciousness surrounds, the feeling is almost one of sensory overload. It’s the moment when Isolation most comes across like it’s going to swallow you entirely, and even when it seems like that tension is being released, it’s really just moving to another stage. Sandwiched between “Blood Moon” and “Theme II,” it is in just the right position for what it presents, and as it leaves off with noise and lets the thud and rumble of the closer — an apparent sequel to the well-feedbacked “Theme” from Spacejumbofudge — the roiling completeness of Isolation is hard to miss.

This is Sons of Otis in full-album mode, and if “Theme II” is half a song topped with noise, a more fitting summation of the fuckall represented throughout the LP preceding it is hard to imagine. A cymbal wash and residual rumble fades out at the close, and all that’s left is the hungover sense of reality-departure from which one is somewhat cruelly returned. Put your head in it — or maybe put it in your head via those fancy earbuds you’ve got there — and Isolation might just stretch you out for years. My advice is to let it do so. One never knows when the follow-up might be coming.

Sons of Otis, Isolation (2020)

Sons of Otis on Thee Facebooks

Sons of Otis on Bandcamp

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Totem Cat Records webstore

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Sons of Otis Announce Isolation out Oct. 16; New Track Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

sons of otis

Look. It’s not that I go around thinking a band like Sons of Otis are about to write a song that’s actually about me in any way, shape or form. That’s not the case. But it’s not like “JJ” is a common name, so yeah, when I see a song with that as the title, of course I’m curious to now what’s up. If your name is something goofy and specific, maybe you’ve experienced the same thing. So yes, I asked Sons of Otis about where the song comes from, and indeed, not in any way, shape or form about me. Probably for the best. Different “JJ” entirely.

“Blood Moon,” however, totally about me. It’s the oddest thing.

No, of course not.

Anyway, for those of you playing at home, it’s been eight friggin’ years since Sons of Otis offered 2012’s Seismic (review here) for public consumption through Small Stone. Isolation finds them well at home on Totem Cat Records with an Oct. 16 release date, and mark your calendar for it, because I’m not saying I’ve heard the record or anything, but yes I have and it’s R-I-F-F-S like your mama used to bake.

Announcement from the PR wire:

Sons of Otis Isolation

Doom blues stalwarts SONS OF OTIS return with new full-length ‘Isolation’ on Totem Cat Records; first track streaming now!

Toronto’s doom blues legends SONS OF OTIS return from their smoke-filled lands with their first studio album since 2012. ‘Isolation’ will be released on October 16th via Totem Cat Records, and you can stream its crushing first single “Ghost” right now!

From the vast Northern land known as Canada comes an enormous sound: the sound of SONS OF OTIS. Gargantuan, rumbling like the innards of Earth, the trio has been pushing aside entire star systems in its unstoppable path since 1993. Their last studio offering ‘Seismic’ was released in 2012 on Small Stone Records, followed by an extra limited ‘Live In Den Bosch’ album in 2018. Standing strong as ever on their veterans feet, their new album ‘Isolation’ delivers the heaviest stoner doom ever known to man, reminding fans and heavy lovers across the globe of the potency of the trio’s signature fuzz and über-stoned grooves.

‘Isolation’ will be issued on October 16th, 2020 on vinyl, CD and digital through Totem Cat Records, and available to preorder from September 14th, 2020 at this location: https://totemcatrecords.bandcamp.com/album/isolation

SONS OF OTIS New album ‘Isolation’
Out October 16th on Totem Cat Records
on vinyl, CD and digital

TRACK LISTING:
1. Hopeless
2. JJ
3. Trust
4. Blood Moon
5. Ghost
6. Theme II

SONS OF OTIS IS
Ken Baluke – Guitars, Vocals
Frank Sargeant – Bass
Ryan Aubin – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/sonsofotis/
https://sonsofotis.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/totemcatrecords/
https://www.instagram.com/totemcatrecords/
http://totemcatrecords.bigcartel.com/

Sons of Otis, Isolation (2020)

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Sons of Otis Finish Writing New Album; Reissuing Paid to Suffer & Spacejumbofudge

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 12th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Okay, yeah, I’ll admit that I saw the below posted from Totem Cat Records last week and held off putting it up here. I guess maybe I was hoping from a more substantive update or something specific, but what that doesn’t account for is that, hey man, it’s Sons of Otis. Take what you can get. Fair enough. The new album from the Toronto-based megastoners — who toured Europe last year, playing Hellfest and then some — is reportedly finished, and that’s nifty news because when it comes out, it’ll be their first studio offering since 2012’s Seismic (review here). They’ve also been saying they were writing for over a year now, but what the hell. Slow music happens slowly. Be really surprised or don’t.

You might recall that late last year, Totem Cat released the Live in Den Bosch LP capturing the band in 2011 in the Netherlands in an edition of a paltry 300 copies. They’re currently down to their last copies at the BigCartel store linked below, and I haven’t heard the thing, but I’ll happily spend your money and say you should pick it up. If for nothing else than to dedicate the shelf space to Sons of Otis, that’s probably better than whatever else you were going to buy. What was it? Groceries? A car? Nah, screw that. There’s riffs to be had.

The rather efficient announcement below also includes the news that the band’s 1994 debut EP, Paid to Suffer, and their 1996 debut album, Spacejumbofudge (discussed here) are being reissued. CLF Records also put out a vinyl of 2001’s Songs for Worship in 2017, leaving 1999’s Templeball in desperate need of another look.

Here’s the latest, for posterity, as well as a video of the band last year in Paris that unsurprisingly kicks ass:

sons of otis logo

New Sons of Otis album is fully written and will be recorded soon, we’re excited to be releasing it early next year. Paid To Suffer & Spacejumbofudge will be reissued on CD & LP as well.

https://www.facebook.com/sonsofotis/
https://www.reverbnation.com/sonsofotis
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http://totemcatrecords.bigcartel.com/

Sons of Otis, Live in Paris, 2018

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Here are 37 Yung Druid Download Codes — Have at It

Posted in Features on June 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

London heavy psych rockers Yung Druid released their self-titled debut album last month on Totem Cat Records. Preceded by the single “Take Me to Your Dealer” (video premiere here), which also serves as the leadoff of the six-track outing, it’s a moh-dern stoh-ner’s delight, with shades of the UK’s having-a-really-good-time-doing-this atmosphere that might generally manifest in a sillier, longer moniker, coupled together with a laid back approach in cuts like “Sleepy Eyes (Sonic THC)” and the Zeppelin-and-Sabbath “Underneath the Aching Sky,” with a ride cymbal drift in the latter that’s neither overstated nor under-present in the song.

Guitars are duly fuzz-coated to suit the giant-doober-smoking four-piece’s vibe on “Lung,” and even in the meandering daydreamy expanse of “Sleepy Eyes (Sonic THC)” and the melo-grunge roll of closer “Morning Come,” or the relatively minimalist spaceout jam in “Went into a Wooden Room” before it, they hold to a sense of patterning that speaks to their ability to cast forth an aesthetic that sounds loose but isn’t at all without a plan it’s working from but is entirely unpretentious in its execution. If you asked them, they’d probably just call it stoner and leave it at that. And yes, as regards character, I consider that a compliment.

While we’re talking about positive personality attributes, the band approached me with the killer idea of hosting a giveaway for a bunch of downloads of the album. My response was of course yes, obviously, and you’ll find below 37 free codes to let you get your hands on some tunes to make your day. No comment necessary — though if you wanted to leave one to tell the band thanks, I’m sure they’d appreciate it — and all you have to do is grab the thing from the link and enjoy. If you find afterward you need to own a physical copy — understandable — Totem Cat‘s got you set.

If the code you use doesn’t work, just do the next one down the line. When they’re gone, they’re gone:

yung druid self titled

Yung Druid download codes

Redeem at: https://yungdruid.bandcamp.com/yum

vpdx-uj6l
f9hp-jk8j
l3cr-yy7k
evjw-3fm9
gfg4-hqkt
ydu4-5tt7
tj5j-b2uv
2g76-whj9
atl2-c58t
7u2a-k3gc
xwmg-k4fx
hp8z-gq5q
4fnn-uz2t
qwdv-jzx7
ghq6-kgm5
34b2-gu9r
5pxd-uv6l
r6ce-v98j
d3hf-g87k
pael-3nm9
v9kj-7l32
6y36-5jdh
u2at-bgw5
lm9t-xuhr
qgt3-vpqd
bunm-6rgc
wla9-klfx
cp9k-gm5q
s72u-u62t
pwxa-j6x7
8se8-kym5
u97g-w4q9
vywn-cpgt
9kjm-x2r7
zng7-jdhv
nakx-yca8
56zp-7h32
gz28-5vdh
32my-byw5
dv8z-hfhr
pgzn-vaqd
r22v-62gc
xn47-ygfk
j5ed-b7v9
976s-xvzt
zl3c-eyy7

Yung Druid, Yung Druid (2019)

Yung Druid on Thee Facebooks

Yung Druid on Bandcamp

Yung Druid on Soundcloud

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Sons of Otis to Release Live in Den Bosch LP Nov. 15

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sons of otis

Science has proven time and again the in depth equation that any new Sons of Otis is good Sons of Otis. If we see the long-running Toronto ultra-stoners as object A, then we can truly posit that A to the power of n equals G times infinity. It all looks like this:

An = Gi

You can’t argue with the math.

Totem Cat Records last week announced it would offer a previously-tour-only compilation from Bongzilla and said at the time there would be another announcement following shortly. Live at Den Bosch will be limited to 300 LP copies — if they’re not already gone on preorders, certainly they will be soon — and is a one-time pressing of Sons of Otis playing live in the Netherlands in 2011. Again, the mere fact of its existence is a positive, and whether you manage to snag a copy or not, you should take heart in knowing that it’s out there.

Of course, the band’s last studio outing was 2012’s Seismic (review here) on Small Stone, and as they hit Europe this past summer playing Hellfest and more, they also noted that a new album was in the works. I think we already know how the numbers play out on that issue.

The band passed the 25-year mark in 2017, and 2019 would be seven years since Seismic, so if you believe in due, they’re due. But one way or the other you’ll probably want to chase this down if you can. There are two versions up for preorder now through the label, with the official release slated for Nov. 15:

sons of otis live in den bosch

[NEW RELEASE ANNOUNCEMENT] Sons of Otis – Live In Den Bosch

Live recording from 2011 in The Netherlands. One-time pressing of only 300 vinyl.

TRACKLIST :
1 – I’m Gone
2 – Bad Man
3 – Lost Soul
4 – Haters
5 – Cosmic Jam
6 – Far From Fine

Preorders start October 30. Official release on November 15.

Cover art by Flog Diver | Illustration & Design

https://www.facebook.com/sonsofotis/
https://www.reverbnation.com/sonsofotis
https://www.facebook.com/totemcatrecords/
http://totemcatrecords.bigcartel.com/

Sons of Otis, Live at Hellfest 2018

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