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.

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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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Paradise Lost Live Stream Airs Today

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 5th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

UK gothic death-doom forebears Paradise Lost are hosting a special streaming event later today in support of their new album, Obsidian (review here). I can’t help but wonder if the band knew then what they know now about how this year would play out of they’d have released it at all, but it’s out there now, and it’s good enough that it’s damn near a tragedy they’re not able to tour it on some 18-month cycle across various continents. But like everyone, they’re working with what they’ve got.

Some day, live music will return. Will it be the same? I doubt it. But as streams have become a go-to gap-filler for so many bands, I don’t think streaming is going away. What I’d love is for pay-per-view videos like this to become part of the pastiche of record promotion. A thing bands do, to do along with live shows, recording, touring, interviews, etc. One way or the other, there’s a lot that needs to shake out culturally before we get there.

And while I’m thinking of it, fuck Boris Johnson too.

The stream info from the PR wire:

paradise lost

Remember remember the 5th of November with PARADISE LOST!

Following on from the release of their new album ‘Obsidian’ in May, British gothic metal legends PARADISE LOST have announced a special live streaming performance and alternative to Bonfire Night on November 5th.

Vocalist Nick Holmes comments,
“Greetings, I hope everyone is well! Just a quick few words to thank everyone for the ongoing great response to our latest album, ‘Obsidian’, and to announce that as there are still no stages for us to play on, we have decided to perform live from our rehearsal studio at ‘The Mill’ In Bradford, West Yorkshire. The stream is due to be aired on 5th November at 20:00 GMT via Stageit.com. We sincerely hope you can all join us in a brief respite from these dark days! Thank you, Nick”

This one time live event will feature a regular set from the band alongside a VIP option, which includes three extra songs plus a pre-recorded interview with the band. The regular set will include the world premiere of 2 new songs from Obsidian, and the VIP set will feature 3. Besides the live stream experience at 12:00 PM PT/3:00PM ET, the band ‘replays’ the performance for their fans in the US at 6:00 PM PT/9:00 PM ET. You can either purchase for the European viewing, the US viewing or buy a ticket to both.

Tickets are on sale now via StageIT on October 20th via Stageit.com

https://www.facebook.com/paradiselostofficial/
https://www.instagram.com/officialparadiselost/
http://www.paradiselost.co.uk/
http://www.facebook.com/nuclearblastusa
http://instagram.com/nuclearblastusa
https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/index.html
https://www.nuclearblast.de/en/

Paradise Lost, Obsidian (2020)

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My Dying Bride to Release Macabre Cabaret EP Nov. 20; New Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

By way of a bit of a mishap, the original promo version of My Dying Bride‘s 2020 album, The Ghost of Orion (review here), that went out not-cool-enough-to-get-it-when-the-print-mags-do press such as myself contained three extra tracks, and those three, “Macabre Cabaret,” “A Secret Kiss” and “A Purse of Gold and Stars,” happen to be the three songs now listed on the forthcoming Macabre Cabaret EP. As someone who’s heard them, I’ll say there’s no real dip in quality from the album. The songs shift arrangements, but the record was just too long with everything on there and they (whether it was band or label) were right to hold some of it back for a release such as this.

And not that My Dying Bride were about to hit the road for an 18-month touring cycle anyway, but in a year with virtually no touring — also the advent of “virtual touring,” just ask Nuclear Blast labelmates Enslaved — a roughly concurrent outing makes sense to keep momentum from the full-length going as year-end whatnot begins to be considered.

The cover below is for the single “A Secret Kiss,” which you can hear in the lyric video below. For what it’s worth, I have no idea what the “hidden gem” might be on the physical editions that the PR wire discusses. Live track, maybe? Another holdover? Acoustic version? The possibilities are as limitless as My Dying Bride‘s own melancholy.

Info follows:

my dying bride a secret kiss

MY DYING BRIDE ANNOUNCE NEW EP “MACABRE CABARET,” OUT ON NOVEMBER 20TH

WATCH LYRIC VIDEO FOR NEW SINGLE “A SECRET KISS”

No rest for one of Britain’s most melancholic exports: Just half a year after MY DYING BRIDE returned from their break with their haunting and successful (German Album Charts #12) masterpiece “The Ghost Of Orion”, the kindred of Yorkshire raise the curtains to the “Macabre Cabaret” – their new MLP that will be released on November 20th via Nuclear Blast.

The new EP of the band offers three new songs (plus a hidden gem on the physical editions) – dark luscious Death Doom ear candies that will dive their victim into a sensual world of darkness and temptation and conceal the borders between sweet pain and destructive illusion.

Order “Macabre Cabaret” here:
http://nblast.de/MDB-MacabreCabaret

Singer Aaron Stainthorpe states:
“’Macabre Cabaret’ delves into the shadow empire of dark love and the consequences of unchecked sexuality. The deep passion of physical desire and its all-conquering rage over pure love is written bleakly here. A destructive essence within the soul can’t help but rear its ugly head.

‘A Secret Kiss’ is the final and lasting mark on the soul any human will feel when the lights have dulled and nothing meaningful remains for them. All religion features a shadow creature who arrives at the point of extinction and the release of the human soul, to either guide them to majesty or allow them do fall eternally into the ether.

‘A Purse of Gold and Stars’ is where we keep our hopes and desires and affection, perhaps in a dreamlike state, unattainable yet we still reach out for them. The trinkets and shiny baubles we call happiness and love are what we try so hard to keep close and protect. But it is never quite like that in real life and is often a struggle tainted with sadness but still, we hold the purse close and in tight cold hands.”

The EP was produced mixed and mastered by maestro Mark Mynett and crowned with a beautiful and sinister artwork from Bunker Artworks.

It comes as:
– Jewelcase CD, digital version
– Black Gatefold LP, Black And Blue Splatter LP [US exclusive – limited to 300 p.]
– Blue Sparkle LP [Mailorder Exclusive – limited to 300 p.]
– White and Grey Splatter [Mailorder and Wholesale Exclusive – limited to 300 p.]
– Marigold LP [EMP Exclusive – limited to 300 p]
– White LP [US – Revolver Magazine Exclusive – limited to 300 p].

www.mydyingbride.net
https://www.facebook.com/MyDyingBrideOfficial/
https://www.instagram.com/mydyingbride_official/
www.nuclearblast.de/mydyingbride
https://www.facebook.com/nuclearblastusa

My Dying Bride, “A Secret Kiss” lyric video

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

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

the-obelisk-qr-summer-2020

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

See you in September.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Paradise Lost, Obsidian

paradise lost obsidian

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

Paradise Lost on Thee Facebooks

Nuclear Blast webstore

 

Vinnum Sabbathi, Of Dimensions and Theories

Vinnum Sabbathi Of Dimensions and Theories

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

Vinnum Sabbathi on Thee Facebooks

Stolen Body Records website

 

Nighthawk, The Sea Legs EP

Nighthawk The Sea Legs EP

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

Nighthawk on Bandcamp

Heavy Temple on Thee Facebooks

 

Familiars, All in Good Time

familiars all in good time

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

Familiars on Thee Facebooks

Familiars on Bandcamp

 

Mountain Witch, Extinct Cults

Mountain Witch Extinct Cults

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

Mountain Witch on Thee Facebooks

This Charming Man Records website

 

Disastroid, Mortal Fools

disastroid mortal fools

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

Disastroid on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Stonegrass, Stonegrass

stonegrass self titled

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

Cosmic Range Records on YouTube

Cosmic Range Records on Bandcamp

 

Jointhugger, I Am No One

jointhugger i am no one

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

Jointhugger on Thee Facebooks

Ozium Records webstore

Interstellar Smoke Records webstore

 

Little Albert, Swamp King

Little Albert Swamp King

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

Little Albert on Thee Facebooks

Aural Music on Bandcamp

 

Parahelio, Surge Evelia, Surge

Parahelio Surge Evelia Surge

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

Parahelio on Thee Facebooks

Necio Records on Bandcamp

 

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Paradise Lost Post “Fall From Grace” Video; Obsidian Preorders Start

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

paradise lost

I’m curious how closely the promotional plan from Nuclear Blast for Paradise Lost‘s new album, Obsidian — which is out May 15 — will follow the pattern of the latest record from My Dying Bride that came out earlier this month. There are, of course, additional factors at play now that weren’t at the beginning of the year as they were rolling out the first of that band’s singles — blah blah blah pandemic — but starting with a narrative-style video and the launch of preorders is on point so far, and likewise the choice of a powerful lead single. In this instance, that’s “Fall From Grace,” for which the video is streamable below, followed, as happens, by the preorder link.

Granted it’s cliché as heckdarnshoot to compare these two acts either sonically or in terms of their respective career trajectories, but now that they’re once again labelmates — Paradise Lost signed to Nuclear Blast for their 2017 album, Medusa (review here), following a long stint on Century Media — it’s hard to avoid since at least one assumes it’s the same teams working behind the scenes on promoting them. My emails come from the same parties, anyhow. Paradise Lost are nothing not a proven commodity, as even the reception to their last offering proved, so maybe that’s me being interested in how the industry works these days — if what comes next is a lyric video, it’ll be on target — but as we’ve all learned to one degree or another in the last month-plus, plans can change in ways not previously anticipated. Still, even on a label with the reach of Nuclear BlastObsidian will obviously be a priority.

If the cinematic feel of “Fall From Grace” is anything to go by, that’s how it’s being treated. More to come, I’m sure.

Enjoy:

Paradise Lost, “Fall From Grace” official video

PARADISE LOST RELEASE NEW SINGLE & VIDEO FOR “FALL FROM GRACE” + START PRE-ORDER FOR “OBSIDIAN” (MAY 15TH)

The book has been closed but the story is not over: PARADISE LOST sharpen their pens and add another chapter to their dark, glooming history of death doom and gothic metal. In difficult times, the British legend from Halifax is the drug that numbs the pain , the lover that takes away the sorrows, the story that craves to be told.

“Obsidian”, the new album from PARADISE LOST, will be released on May,15th.

You can order “Obsidian” now in various formats here:
https://nblast.de/ParadiseLostObsidian

Nick Holmes states: “As a global crisis, it goes without saying Covid 19 has affected everyone and everything, including every aspect of the music industry. As a result, our record label Nuclear Blast offered us the chance to postpone the launch of our latest album ‘Obsidian’ to a less volatile time later in the year.

Taking this into consideration, and the fact the live music circuit is currently in lockdown, we think it’s unnecessary to postpone the release as we think our fans wouldn’t want to wait. Music can be enjoyed in practically any environment, so therefore we are going ahead with the same release date 15.5.20, and we sincerely hope our new album helps to lift your spirits, and is a beacon of light in the dark during these uncertain times! Thanks for your continuous support through the years and see you on the road!”

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Paradise Lost Set May 15 Release for Obsidian

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

paradise lost

So the new Paradise Lost album is called Obsidian. Think it’s dark? Might be. To go with the announcement of the record’s May 15 arrival — certainly welcome news as far as I’m concerned, and I’d imagine you probably feel much the same if you heard 2017’s Medusa (review here) or, say, any number of the other offerings they’ve put out over the last three-plus decades — they’re sharing a teaser for the opening track, “Darker Thoughts.” But here’s the thing. It’s 12 seconds long.

Come on, guys. That’s not a teaser. That’s a teaser for a teaser. “Look out for the teaser coming soon! Here’s a taste!”

12 seconds. What do we get? Some strings and the lyric, “This one-way street you’re on is gonna get you killed.” That’s not nothing. It’s a darker thought than many, but it doesn’t tell you much about the record. In the PR wire info, they call it “more eclectic,” which might hint that it’s pulling away from some of the more direct heaviness of their highly successful last couple outings — and I guess this 12 seconds would support that to some degree — but who the hell knows at this point? Two months ahead of the release, that’s what we’ve got.

Here’s art and details:

paradise lost obsidian

PARADISE LOST ANNOUNCE NEW ALBUM, “OBSIDIAN,” OUT ON MAY 15TH

Obsidian… dark, reflective and black: it’s a pretty decent description of the music that PARADISE LOST have been making over the last 32 years, even though this most resilient of British metal bands have stoically refused to be pinned down to one easily defined formula. Powered by a lust for creativity and a stout devotion to haunting heaviness, PARADISE LOST have defied the odds by coming back stronger than ever over the past decade.

“Obsidian”, the new album of Gothic legend PARADISE LOST will be released on May 15th.

Singer Nick Holmes comments about the new album: “One of the most eclectic albums we have done in some time, we have miserable songs, sad songs ,slow songs and faster songs. Did I mention miserable?”

The sixteenth PARADISE LOST studio album, “Obsidian“ eschews its immediate predecessors’ gruesome, myopic approach in favour of a richer and more dynamic deluge of black shades. From the deceptive elegance and dual atmospheres of opener ‘Darker Thoughts‘ through to the crushing, baroque doom of war-torn closer ‘Ravenghast‘, “Obsidian“ reveals a band in masterful control of a broad array of vital ideas. Most noticeably, the record boasts several songs that draw heavily from the much-loved, Kohl-encrusted days of ‘80s gothic rock: in particular, newly-minted PARADISE LOST anthems‚ ‘Ghosts‘ is a guaranteed dancefloor-filler at any discerning goth nightclub.

PARADISE LOST – “Obsidian”
Tracklist

1. Darker Thoughts
2. Fall From Grace
3. Ghosts
4. The Devil Embraced
5. Forsaken
6. Serenity
7. Ending Days
8. Hope Dies Young
9. Ravenghast

Formed in Halifax, West Yorkshire, in 1988, PARADISE LOST were unlikely candidates for metal glory when they slithered from the shadows and infiltrated the UK underground. But not content with spawning an entire subgenre with early death/doom masterpiece „Gothic“ nor with conquering the metal mainstream with the balls-out power of 1995’s„Draconian Times“, they have subsequently traversed multiple genre boundaries with skill and grace, evolving through the pitch-black alt-rock mastery of ‘90s classics “One Second“ and “Host“ to the muscular but ornate grandeur of 2009’s “Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us“ and “Tragic Idol“ (2012), with the nonchalant finesse of grand masters.

The band’s last two albums – “The Plague Within“ (2015) and “Medusa“ (2017) – saw a much celebrated return to brutal, old school thinking, via two crushing monoliths to slow-motion death and spiritual defeat. Consistently hailed as one of metal’s most charismatic live bands, PARADISE LOST arrive in this new decade as veterans, legends and revered figureheads for several generations of gloomy metalheads. In keeping with their unerring refusal to deliver the expected, 2020 brings one of the band’s most diverse and devastating creations to date.

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Paradise Lost, “Darker Thoughts” teaser

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My Dying Bride Post “To Outlive the Gods” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 11th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

my dying bride

The new clip for ‘To Outlive the Gods’ is the third song-based video to come from My Dying Bride‘s newly-issued The Ghost of Orion (review here) — their first for Nuclear Blast after spending nearly 30 years as a flagship act for Peaceville — arriving as it does behind a lyric video for “Tired of Tears” (posted here) and the mud-covered clip for album opener “Your Broken Shore” (posted here). That seems like plenty in and of itself, but there have been a host of other videos as well that would seem to be culled from an interview with band founders Aaron Stainthorpe (vocals) and Andrew Craighan (guitar) talking about various aspects of making the record, constructing the band, and so on. As these have basically arrived piecemeal, one question at a time — because attention spans — it’s safe to say that both band and label are laying it on fairly thick when it comes to promotion.

Reasonably so. The Ghost of Orion earns it, both in emotional weight and in the quality of its songwriting and of course in the masterful poise with which My Dying Bride present their particular take on doom, once groundbreaking and still affecting. With much of its material based around the horror of Stainthorpe‘s then-five-year-old daughter being diagnosed with cancer, it’s the kind of work you’d have to be a sociopath not to feel on some level, but melodically and in terms of its brutal moments, the band don’t lose sight of songcraft either, as tracks like “To Outlive the Gods” showcase well. If “Your Broken Shore” told the audience there were gonna be death growls on the record and “Tired of Tears” was a gut-wrencher of a single, then “To Outlive the Gods” is the string-laced flowing melodic side of The Ghost of Orion coming to bear. Still based around a memorable chorus, the song unfolds across eight minutes or so of My Dying Bride‘s signature melancholy.

My only question at this point is when they’re going to hit the road, where, and for how long.

Guess we’ll see.

You can check out the video below — it’s got acting! — followed by more from the PR wire.

Enjoy:

My Dying Bride, “To Outlive the Gods” official video

Doom legends MY DYING BRIDE unleashed their new album The Ghost Of Orion last week and today the band are releasing the official video for ‘To Outlive The Gods’. Directed by Hal Sinden, the video features frontman Aaron Stainthorpe and tells the tale of a doomed love story.

Aaron commented on the track: “When passion is so strong and so driven, even the Gods will be put to shame.”

Order The Ghost Of Orion on CD, black 2LP Gatefold, white 2LP Gatefold, red 2LP Gatefold and picture disc 2LP Gatefold here: nblast.de/TheGhostOfOrion

My Dying Bride’s three decades of misery almost came to an end several years ago. Following 2015’s universally lauded Feel the Misery album, vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s daughter, just five years old at the time, was diagnosed with cancer. Shocked and heartbroken, Stainthorpe put all band activities on hold while he, his immediate family, and My Dying Bride put their collective energies into eradicating what Stainthorpe called, “the cruellest of God’s bitter and loveless creations.” The high hurdles, however, didn’t stop with cancer. In 2018, returning original member and guitarist Calvin Robertshaw texted his departure, effective immediately. No reason was given or explanation provided to anyone.

Then, just as My Dying Bride had regrouped after positive news that his daughter was effectively cancer free, returning drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels departed right before the band were slated to enter Mark Mynett’s studio, Mynetaur Productions. Down two members but feeling right as rain, My Dying Bride moved on, mastered the doldrums, recording magnificent new album, The Ghost of Orion, to the joyful tears of fans across the globe, in the process.

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My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion: Mending Shores

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

my dying bride the ghost of orion

While it’s true that The Ghost of Orion is My Dying Bride‘s 14th album in a career that hits the 30-year mark in 2020, it’s also their first in a half-decade. That is a longer break between full-lengths than they’ve ever had, and in addition to signing to Nuclear Blast after issuing 2015’s Feel the Misery (review here) and each of its predecessors through Peaceville Records, the distance from one LP to the next might be found in vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe dealing with an illness in his family. More specifically, his child, and even more specifically, his five-year-old daughter got cancer. This is something addressed directly in the material itself, and as the eight-song/58-minute offering passes between the opener “Your Broken Shore” and its brief choral counterpart, the finale “Your Woven Shore,” the theme is writ large throughout, perhaps most directly in “Tired of Tears,” which remains an exceptionally beautiful work of songcraft despite its tragic lyrical origin — it is also equal parts sorrowful and catchy — and a piece like “The Solace,” where Wardruna‘s Linda Fay-Hella steps in on lead vocal joined only by the guitar of Stainthorpe‘s fellow My Dying Bride founder Andrew Craighan. Fay-Hella is one of two guests alongside cellist Jo Quail, and as Lena Abé‘s bass and Jeff Singer‘s drums and Shaun MacGowan‘s keyboards and violins flesh out arrangements, the encompassing whole remains characteristic with the particular style of emotive death-doom that Craighan and Stainthorpe helped pioneer in the band’s landmark early work. The Ghost of Orion, to put it as simply as possible, is the work of masters.

That’s evident from the first strains of guitar and the first thuds of drums that introduce “Your Broken Shore,” and as that track unfolds with its blended death-growl chorus and melodic-vocal verse, its string accompaniment and its unadulterated feeling of rhythmic force, there’s no mistaking My Dying Bride for anyone else among the minimum-two generations of acts they’ve influenced and no doubt will continue to influence, not the least because of the work they do here. As gutturalism and melody come together in the crescendo, “Your Broken Shore” gives way to strings in a fluid transition to the quick keys at the outset of “To Outlive the Gods,” which will return in both the midsection and at the finish, while in between, what plays out is an immersive shift between the leadoff and “Tired of Tears,” of which the immediacy is not at all dulled by the fact that it’s nearly nine minutes long. It is a signature hook for The Ghost of Orion, more so even than “Your Broken Shore,” while and seems very much intended to standout from what surrounds. The fact that it comes situated next to “The Solace” might have something to do with that as well, since that at-least-partial-departure-from-form is also a chance to digest the proceedings up to that point even as they progress through a new stage, but that only adds another level of consideration to how effective The Ghost of Orion is on the whole. Again, the work of masters.

my dying bride

“The Solace” also functions as a transition into the remaining tracks, which take a somewhat different approach than the album up to that point, though perhaps one might look at the structure of “To Outlive the Gods,” with its breaks into clearly-defined sections, as something of a precursor. Positioned as the final cut on side B, “The Solace” itself is stark for its lack of drums and inherently folkish with Fay-Hella‘s vocals standing alone overtop the layers of guitar leads, and what it lends to The Ghost of Orion in terms of atmosphere isn’t out of character certainly with what’s come before, but is definitely built upon in what comes after, as the shape of the second LP moves between the most extreme moments in “The Long Black Land” and the penultimate “The Old Earth” — both of which top 10 minutes long — and the shorter pieces that accompany in the tense but ultimately quiet piano/guitar interlude title-track and the aforementioned closer “Your Woven Shore,” which shifts smoothly in its two-minute stretch between a choir of voices either organic or synthesized and a movement of strings that seems to represent the resolution so much of the album has been begging for — its second half doing so in especially visceral fashion. Though neither wants for overarching lushness or dynamic, they nonetheless represent the darkest reaches of The Ghost of Orion, and even as Stainthorpe self-harmonizes in an especially mournful lower register in the later portion of “The Long Black Hand,” the emotional weight is no less grueling than that of the tone or rhythm surrounding.

Likewise, after “The Ghost of Orion” leaves off its brief passage, the quiet introduction of “The Old Earth,” subtly building to a cymbal-wash-and-stop as the full-thickness riff joins in, the ensuing roll is a setup for the punishment of the record’s harshest, sound-like-they-physically-hurt-to-deliver-in-the-studio growls. Stainthorpe plays back and forth almost in a call and response as “The Old Earth” lumbers through its midsection, and it’s not until after six and a half minutes into the total 10:52 that the tempo picks up to a more kinetic chug. The drums also join that build, and thus drive it, and it seems like My Dying Bride will ride that chug to the song’s finish, but they turn to a more angular section derived from earlier, the strings and guitar continuing to mount tension before finally letting go somewhere just before the final minute begins, Craighan holding on through the last fade from which “Your Woven Shore” emerges to underscore the death-and-life-from-death-and-life thematic that all of The Ghost of Orion has been working through on at least one level for its duration, and usually more than that. Taken individually, its initial salvo feels poised to capture the listener and engage the beginning of the story the band are telling, while everything thereafter answers that by deepening and enriching the plot as it unfurls. An interchange between beauty and pain is not by any means new aesthetic territory for My Dying Bride, and one must allow for the context in such a consideration here perhaps more than one otherwise might, but rarely has their turmoil ever sounded so genuine, and rarely has their triumph through it felt so resonant.

My Dying Bride, “Tired of Tears” lyric video

My Dying Bride, “Your Broken Shore” official video

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