Yawning Man Set June 14 Release for Macedonian Lines; Preorder Up & Video Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

yawning man heavy psych sounds

Yawning Man are working on a quick turnaround from 2018’s The Revolt Against Tired Noises (review here) to release their new LP, Macedonian Lines, in June on Heavy Psych Sounds, but listening to the album only confirms the experimentalist approach that’s let them do so. Exploring some moodier atmospheres with keys and their inimitable tones, the pivotal desert rock three-piece will use the long-player’s release as the launch point for a European tour in June, so the timing works on multiple levels. They’ve got a video posted for the title-track that shows some of where they’re coming from in terms of sound this time around, and it’s a twist on the established Yawning Man approach that’s made them so widely influential. Take a second and check it out.

Cover art and PR wire whatnot follow, as well as the preorder link, should you want to get in on that.

And you probably should:

Yawning Man Macedonian Lines

YAWNING MAN share details + stunning video off new “Macedonian Lines” album on Heavy Psych Sounds; preorder available now!

YAWNING MAN continue to establish their exceptionally unique approach to rock music on the bands latest album “Macedonian Lines” (Heavy Psych Sounds Records). The follow up to the critically acclaimed “Revolt Against Tired Noises” shows a further maturing of melody, dynamics and emotion in the bands songwriting. Yawning Man’s roots lay at the foundation of the desert rock and stoner rock sub-genres, however the music the band creates is truly organic and visceral, conjuring a flowing imagery and a emotional response. On this release, the band has a darker and massively heavier sound than past recordings as most of these tracks were developed in live performance and then fully realized in the studio. YAWNING MAN returned to Gatos Trail Studio in the Joshua Tree CA desert to record this album and the space and beauty of the surroundings is ever present in every track. Heavy, beautiful, and delicate. Gary Arce, Mario Lalli and Bill Stinson continue to expand and dig deep with every track.

Mario Lalli (bass) says about the new record: “Macedonian Lines represents the spirit of this band beyond the sound and composition. All the elements of this song were created in live improvisations during Yawning Man’s last European tour. The band refined the ideas night after night in front of live audiences. By tour’s end, the composition is what your hear on the new LP…. truly organic. The title comes from the band’s experiences crossing the Eastern European borders during this turbulent time of refugee migrations and political discord, while the music tends to add beauty to these observations.

‘Macedonian Lines’ will be available June 14th in the following formats; preorder at this location: https://www.heavypsychsounds.com/shop.htm#HPS105

– 30 Test Press vinyl
– 250 LTD Orange vinyl
– 650 Yellow splatter/Purple/Red vinyl
– Black vinyl
– CD and digital

YAWNING MAN New album “Macedonian Lines”
Out June 14th on Heavy Psych Sounds

TRACK LISTING:
1. Virtual Funeral
2. Macedonian Lines
3. Melancholy Sadie
4. Bowie’s Last Breath
5. I’m Not A Real Indian (But I Play One On TV)
6. I Make Weird Choices

YAWNING MAN LIVE:
13.06.19 Amsterdam | Melkweg
14.06.19 Achterhoek | Manana Festival
15.06.19 Liège | La Zone
16.06.19 Bristol | The Lane
18.06.19 Manchester | Rebellion
19.06.19 Glasgow | Audio
20.06.19 Coventry | The Phoenix
22.06.19 Tunbridge Wells | Black Deer Festival
25.06.19 Hamburg | Markthalle
26.06.19 Köln | Sonic Ballroom
27.06.19 Karlsruhe | Alte Hackerei
29.06.19 Vitoria | Hell Dorado
02.07.19 Barcelona | Rocksound
03.07.19 Bilbao | Satelite T
04.07.19 Bordeaux | Astroshøw Open Air
06.07.19 Leuven | Sojo
10.07.19 Cottbus | Zum Faulen August
11.07.19 Wien | Arena
12.07.19 Salzburg | Rockhouse
13.07.19 Erfurt | Stoned From The Underground
14.07.19 Pleszew | Red Smoke Festival
23.07.19 Munich | Free & Easy Festival
25.07.19 Breitenbach | Burg Herzberg Festival

YAWNING MAN IS:
Gary Arce – Guitar
Mario Lalli – Bass
Bill Stinson – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/yawningmanofficial/
https://yawningman.bandcamp.com
http://www.yawningman.com/
https://www.facebook.com/HEAVYPSYCHSOUNDS
http://www.heavypsychsounds.com
https://heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com

Yawning Man, “Macedonian Lines” official video

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Yawning Man Announce New Album Due in June on Heavy Psych Sounds

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Yawning Man will release a new album in June through Heavy Psych Sounds to coincide with their previously announced European tour. Info on the record is pretty sparse at this point, as regards title and songs and so on, but preorders start next week and there’s reportedly audio to come then as well, so I assume this preliminary announcement will be followed up with more news next week. Suits me just fine. I don’t know if you heard it, but 2018’s The Revolt Against Tired Noises (review here) was an absolute gem, and it’s awesome that the band are following it up so quickly. Don’t forget they also toured in the US earlier this year, so it’s quite a bit of productivity for the band who count their origins as well over 30 years ago and who still have never quite gotten their due. A sense of urgency suits them. Can’t wait to hear the record.

Fresh off the PR wire:

yawning man heavy psych sounds

HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS RECORDS is stoked to announce that our desert rock godfathers YAWNING MAN are coming back with a brand new album in June !!!

PRESALE STARTS: APRIL 16th

Formed in the late 1980’s, the lineup of Gary Arce, Mario Lalli, and Bill Stinson rounds out their yearlong active recording and touring schedule. Arce and Lalli’s background together date back to the start of Yawning Man with Stinson’s background steeped in the SST Records world through performing and recording with Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski of Black Flag for several years. Yawning Man is acknowledged and recognized throughout the underground heavy music community as a key piece in the developments of the desert/stoner rock subgenres. While their contemporaries gravitated toward the heavy riffs of grunge, and post punk, Yawning Man leaned in another direction with their unique and organic, cinematic compositions and psychedelic improvisations…the perfect soundtrack to encompass the spacious moonscape atmosphere of the well documented “generator parties” of their area in the late 1980’s.

It was at these gatherings where they developed this distinctive style and sound by enchanting spectators with their seemingly endless free form instrumental sessions, which echoed through the beautiful deserts, mesas, and landscapes of the Coachella Valley. As time passed, their legend grew with notable names of the Palm Desert music scene paying homage to the group through mention and praise, notably with legendary desert band Kyuss (Joshua Homme, Brant Bjork, John Garcia, Scott Reeder) doing their own rendition of the Yawning Man track “Catamaran” on the 1995 Elektra release ..And The Circus Leaves Town. Festival appearances include Hellfest (FR), Azkena Fest (ES), Reverence Fest (ES) Desertfest London, Desertfest Berlin, Up in Smoke (CH), Psycho Las Vegas (US), Stoned & Dusted I & II (US), and various others. The recent documentaries on the Deserts unique music scene Lo Sound Desert and Desert Age give light on Yawning Man’s influential impact on underground rock music.

13.06.19 Amsterdam | Melkweg
14.06.19 Achterhoek | Manana Festival
15.06.19 Liège | La Zone
16.06.19 Bristol | The Lane
18.06.19 Manchester | Rebellion
19.06.19 Glasgow | Audio
20.06.19 Coventry | The Phoenix
22.06.19 Tunbridge Wells | Black Deer Festival
25.06.19 Hamburg | Markthalle
26.06.19 Köln | Sonic Ballroom
27.06.19 Karlsruhe | Alte Hackerei
29.06.19 Vitoria | Hell Dorado
02.07.19 Barcelona | Rocksound
03.07.19 Bilbao | Satelite T
04.07.19 Bordeaux | Astroshøw Open Air
06.07.19 Leuven | Sojo
10.07.19 Cottbus | Zum Faulen August
11.07.19 Wien | Arena
12.07.19 Salzburg | Rockhouse
13.07.19 Erfurt | Stoned From The Underground
14.07.19 Pleszew | Red Smoke Festival
23.07.19 Munich | Free & Easy Festival
25.07.19 Breitenbach | Burg Herzberg Festival

YAWNING MAN IS
Gary Arce – Guitar
Mario Lalli – Bass
Bill Stinson – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/yawningmanofficial/
https://yawningman.bandcamp.com
http://www.yawningman.com/
https://www.facebook.com/HEAVYPSYCHSOUNDS
http://www.heavypsychsounds.com
https://heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com

Yawning Man, Live at Bovine Sex Club, Jan. 20, 2019

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Yawning Man Announce European Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

yawning man

Yawning Man recently finished a plenty-extensive North American tour — I saw them in Brooklyn; they ruled — and were in Europe as recently as last September, so it’s safe to say they’re in high gear at the moment, though one might not know it from the ultra-serene sounds that actually emanate from the stage when they play. The Californian desert rock forebears will return to Europe this summer in genuine working-band-making-a-go-of-it fashion as they continue to support 2018’s The Revolt Against Tired Noises (review here), and we already know that after this run, which features stops at Black Deer Fest in the UK, as well as Stoned from the Underground in Germany, Red Smoke in Poland and Burg Herzberg in Germany, among others, and before they even go, they’ll be in CA this May to appear at their label’s first-ever US edition of its Heavy Psych Sounds Fest. To say they’re keeping busy would be understating it.

But they are. Keeping busy.

I’ll be interested to see what their Fall plans are, if they’ll do another US run or maybe put themselves in full album-cycle mode and start writing again ahead of more touring in 2020. I guess we’ve got some time before we get there. But right now, it seems like Yawning Man are the most active they’ve ever been, and for a band with more than 30 years’ history, that’s saying something.

Sound of Liberation posted the Euro dates thusly:

yawning man euro tour

Yawning Man will be back in Europe next summer! Here are the first dates! More will be added soon.

13.06.19 Amsterdam | Melkweg
14.06.19 Achterhoek | Manana Festival
15.06.19 Liège | La Zone
16.06.19 Bristol | The Lane
18.06.19 Manchester | Rebellion
19.06.19 Glasgow | Audio
20.06.19 Coventry | The Phoenix
22.06.19 Tunbridge Wells | Black Deer Festival
25.06.19 Hamburg | Markthalle
26.06.19 Köln | Sonic Ballroom
27.06.19 Karlsruhe | Alte Hackerei
29.06.19 Vitoria | Hell Dorado
02.07.19 Barcelona | Rocksound
03.07.19 Bilbao | Satelite T
04.07.19 Bordeaux | Astroshøw Open Air
06.07.19 Leuven | Sojo
10.07.19 Cottbus | Zum Faulen August
11.07.19 Wien | Arena
12.07.19 Salzburg | Rockhouse
13.07.19 Erfurt | Stoned From The Underground
14.07.19 Pleszew | Red Smoke Festival
23.07.19 Munich | Free & Easy Festival
25.07.19 Breitenbach | Burg Herzberg Festival

YAWNING MAN IS
Gary Arce – Guitar
Mario Lalli – Bass
Bill Stinson – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/yawningmanofficial/
https://yawningman.bandcamp.com
http://www.yawningman.com/
https://www.facebook.com/HEAVYPSYCHSOUNDS
http://www.heavypsychsounds.com
https://heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com

Yawning Man, Live at Bovine Sex Club, Jan. 20, 2019

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Heavy Psych Sounds Fest USA Tour Announced with Red Fang, Yawning Man, Mothership, Fatso Jetson, Wo Fat, Duel and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

heavy psych sounds logo

I should’ve seen this one coming when Heavy Psych Sounds announced multiple venues for its Heavy Psych Sounds Fest this month in Europe — was it this weekend? — playing in three different cities with a changing lineup. Should’ve guessed this was going to be the direction it took. Even if I did though, I don’t think I’d have called a lineup badass enough to bring together Duel, Fatso JetsonNebulaGreenbeardHeavy TempleMothership and The Freeks. Among others. Heavy Psych Sounds has become a powerhouse in Europe, promoting bands through the label, booking tours, hosting its fest, whatever it might be. A US package tour under the banner of Heavy Psych Sounds Fest isn’t a small step, but it’s a natural one for an imprint that’s doing such crucial work.

I hope it all goes off without a hitch and they do it on the regular.

From the PR wire:

heavy psych sounds fest usa tour

Red Fang, Yawning Man, Mothership and more team up for inaugural HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS FEST tour in the United States!

Influential heavy rock label HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS expands its sphere into North America, with live shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas and Austin.

Respected underground rock record label Heavy Psych Sounds is proud to announce the inaugural U.S. iteration of its ‘Heavy Psych Sounds Fest’ series. Set to kick off this May in Los Angeles (May 3), San Francisco (May 4-5), Dallas (May 10) and Austin, TX (May 11), the label tour will feature four separate mini-festivals in the four cities, each spotlighting an exclusive selection of Heavy Psych Sounds’ blue-chip roster, including live sets from trailblazing acts Fatso Jetson, Nebula and Yawning Man, as well as special guests Red Fang and more.

Headquartered in Rome, Italy, Heavy Psych Sounds specializes in presenting the best artists in the global heavy psych, doom, fuzz blues and space rock realms, and the Heavy Psych Sounds Fest series will be no exception, spotlighting the ever-growing label’s dedication to its craft. While the first HPS fests were held in Italy, the label has since extended its live reach into the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands with festivals in those territories. Now, Heavy Psych Sounds is set to bring the ROCK to the U.S. with the just-announced special shows. Each stop of the traveling festival tour will feature diverse lineups including both genre leaders and fast-rising acts, all ready to prove their place among the world’s best.

“Being able to finally launch the U.S. version of Heavy Psych Sounds Fest is a dream true,”says label owner Gabriele Fiori. “We’ve been working for a long time to properly break into the U.S. market and this is a clear sign that the hard work is paying off. We have so many great U.S. based bands on our roster that we needed this to happen for all of us. This tour run is a celebration of our growing U.S. presence, which we hope will keep continue to grow. We’re also very happy to have Red Fang as guests, headlining in two of the cities. We hope music fans will come out, support and enjoy these very special shows!”

HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS FEST U.S. tour dates:

May 3 – Los Angeles, CA at The House of Machines
Red Fang (special guest) + Nebula + Yawning Man + Duel + Fatso Jetson + House Of Broken Promises

May 4 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
Red Fang (special guest) + Yawning Man + Duel + The Freeks + Glitter Wizard

May 5 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
Nebula + Hot Lunch + Fatso Jetson + Banquet + Turn Me On Dead Man

May 10 – Dallas, TX at Lola’s
Mothership + Duel + Ecstatic Vision + Crypt Trip + Wo Fat + Heavy Temple

May 11 – Austin, TX at The Lost Well
Duel + Ecstatic Vision + Mothership + Crypt Trip + Greenbeard + Wo Fat + Heavy Temple

Tickets for the Heavy Psych Sounds Fest shows in Los Angeles, Dallas and Austin are on sale now.
Tickets for the San Francisco HPS event will go on sale February 28.

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

Nebula, “Giant” live at SonicBlast Moledo 2018

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Stoned and Dusted Announces Full Lineup; Party in the Desert

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

stoned and dusted banner

There wasn’t really any doubt, but it’s nice to have confirmation that the lineup for Stoned and Dusted is awesome. So there you have Melvins, Fu Manchu, Brant Bjork, King Buffalo, Yawning Man, Acid King, Black Mountain, Lo-Pan, REZN, BigPig, Del-Toros, Sgt. Papers and, oh yeah, Radio Moscow for a bit of the ultra-boogie. I was having a conversation not so long ago with an artist who played last year and was talking about how the sound guy was indeed spaced way the hell out, so when you look at the poster and see “Sound Guy on Acid” listed above the Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show, you should know they may be speaking literally. No doubt that will only add to the one-of-a-kind experience of the desert’s own heavy party.

The lineup speaks for itself, so I’ll spare you the get-there-if-you-can-get-there rant and just drop the ticket link here for your purchasing and travel planning. There’s also a Spotify playlist below that, while I imagine you’re well familiar with the bulk of these acts, is no less welcome for that, as far as I’m concerned.

Dig:

Stoned and Dusted 2019

The California Desert Wizards Association will hold its second annual members’ gathering on May 25 & 26th, 2019 in the Southern California Mojave Desert, USA.

Total radness on Memorial Day weekend!

On Saturday May 25th we are doing it up at Pappy & Harriet’s, our favorite desert roadhouse and one of the world’s coolest music venues. Get ready for an outside show under the desert skies with Melvins, Fu Manchu, Brant Bjork, REZN, (Big) Pig, and lights by the Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show.

Our desert party is back and it’s going down on May 26th at a secret location near Joshua Tree, CA with Black Mountain, Acid King, Radio Moscow, Yawning Man (Official), King Buffalo, Lo-Pan, Sgt. Papers, Del-Toros, and the Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show.
Limited tickets available, get yours now!

https://cdwa.ticketleap.com/2019-stoned-and-dusted

Poster by Branca Studio
photo by Sam Grant.

Big thanks to Pizza Del Perro Negro and TIMEWARP MUSIC!!

https://cdwa.ticketleap.com/2019-stoned-and-dusted/
https://www.facebook.com/StonedandDusted/
https://www.facebook.com/events/1053849404806774
https://www.instagram.com/stonedanddusted/
https://www.stonedanddusted.com/

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Brant Bjork, Groundhogs, Child, Yawning Man and More Playing Black Deer Festival in London

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

black deer desertscene banner

Desertscene in London — the same good people who put together Desertfest there and have worked to bring it to New York as well — have paired up with the country/Americana/blues Black Deer Festival to present a stage called The Roadhouse that’ll have custom motorcycles hanging around, camping and a lineup that’s pretty kickass front to back. It’s not exactly like they’re sneaking into the bill, but you’ve got Yawning ManAsteroidBrant Bjork and Groundhogs and King Buffalo and Radio Moscow and Duel and Steak and Child and so on bringing their wares to Edridge Park in Kent and it seems to me you could do a hell of a lot worse than kind of having a mini-Desertfest built into another festival. That’s how you reach a broader audience, by playing for people who maybe haven’t already heard you. Seems likely a few heads will be turned across the three-day event.

The PR wire has info:

black deer fest poster

BLACK DEER FESTIVAL REVEAL MORE NAMES FOR 2019

Another round of carefully curated names have been added to the Black Deer Festival lineup today, making for an impressive second year for the award-winning new event. The three-day celebration of Americana and Country, set in the beautiful Eridge Park in Kent, presents a unique experience combining music, food and Americana culture that can’t be found anywhere else in the UK.

Brant Bjork, the member of two of the most influential 90’s stoner rock bands Kyuss and Fu Manchu, whose desert rock and roots style will resonate from The Roadhouse stage in June. Brant Bjork joins the all American heavy blues contingent of previously announced Left Lane Cruiser, Radio Moscow and The Roadhouse ‘house band’ Steak – all curated by Desertscene for Black Deer.

Completing today’s line up is British blues rock band Groundhogs, who are best known for their 70’s single Cherry Red – a name adopted by one of Britain’s longest standing independent record labels – as well as heavy psych-blues trio King Buffalo, Australian blues-rockers Child, 60’s psychedelic songwriter Roxanne De Bastion, California’s experimental rockers Yawning Man, Country preacher Paul Cauthen, larger than life boatman and bluesman Sonic Gypsy and Hertfordshire’s rock band Redwood.

ARTISTS ANNOUNCED TO DATE (A-Z)
Asteroid, Band of Horses, Brant Bjork, Chance McCoy, Child, Daniel Antopolsky, Duel, Fantastic Negrito, Ferris & Sylvester, Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys, Groundhogs, Hayseed Dixie, Irish Mythen, Jerron Blind Boy Paxton, John Butler Trio, John Smith, Justin Townes Earle, King Buffalo, Kris Kristofferson & The Strangers, Larkin Poe, Left Lane Cruiser, Lucero, Martin Harley, Morganway, Mountains, Neko Case, Paul Cauthen, Radio Moscow, Redwood, Roxanne De Bastion, Ryan Bingham, Sonic Gypsy, Steak, Stubb, The Black Wizards, The Dead South, The Marcus King Band, The Mavericks, The Sheepdogs, The Staves, The Vintage Caravan, The Wandering Hearts, The Trials of Cato, William Crighton, Worry Dolls, Yawning Man.

TICKET INFORMATION
Tier 1 tickets on sale now and are available from https://blackdeerfestival.com/tickets/
Ticket prices from £105 – subject to booking fees.

Tier 2 tickets will be on sale from 26th February.

https://www.facebook.com/events/342379713221524/
https://facebook.com/blackdeerfest
https://www.instagram.com/blackdeerfest/
https://blackdeerfestival.com/tickets/

King Buffalo, “Longing to be the Mountain” live in Philadelphia, Nov. 3, 2018

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Live Review: Yawning Man and Freedom Hawk in Brooklyn, NY, 01.17.19

Posted in Reviews on January 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

yawning man (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It’s not the most intuitive pairing, but it worked. By the time they hit Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn on Jan. 17, Yawning Man had already been on the road for more than two weeks. They’d started on Jan. 2 in Arizona and made their way gradually east and north, playing Philadelphia and Boston the two nights prior and accordingly probably well familiar by then with the stretches of I-95. That’s not a fun ride. Freedom Hawk had joined the party a few nights before that, in Asheville, North Carolina, taking over the support slot from Nick Oliveri‘s Mondo Generator, and the bi-coastal complement suited both bands well — Yawning Man with their deeply atmospheric approach and Freedom Hawk more given to a straightforward classic heavy rock songwriting modus. Perhaps an odd fit on paper, but it made way more sense on stage. Kudos to Tone Deaf Touring for the vision.

Both groups released albums last year. Yawning Man had The Revolt Against Tired Noises (review here) on Heavy Psych Sounds over the summer and Freedom Hawk plowed through their fifth LP, Beast Remains (review here), before that. It had been years and years since the last time I saw the Virginia Beach outfit, as bassist Mark Cave politely reminded me — he said the last time was Small Stone‘s 2011 showcase in Philly (review here), but actually it was Small Stone‘s 2012 showcase in Boston (review here), though to be honest, that night was fuzzy in more ways than one — and it’s been a tumultuous few years for them, losing guitarist Matt Cave and deciding to continue as a three-piece, only to see Mark, guitarist/vocalist T.R. Morton and drummer Lenny Hines bring in guitarist Brendan O’Neill in 2016, moving as well from Small Stone to Ripple following 2015’s Into Your Mind (review here).

Nonetheless, what’s remained true is the following: Freedom Hawk believe in the power of heavy rock and roll, and if you’re fortunate enough to spend a little time in their company, they might make you a believer too. As one would expect and hope, much of what they played came off of Beast Remains and Into Your Mind — songs like “Blood Red Sky,” “Darkness and the Light,” “Solid Gold,” “Waterfall,” “Radar,” “Lost in Space,” and “Danger,” which Morton introduced with the choice line, “I don’t know if you guys can handle this next song. It’s a little dangerous. It’s called ‘Danger.'” Charm always goes a long way in my book, but the band wanted nothing for delivery either. That shouldn’t be surprising, as they’ve toured consistently over the course of this decade, here and there in the US as well as abroad in Europe, where just last year they played Desertfest London and Berlin and more besides. They’re veterans as well of Roadburn, Morton wore a shirt he likely picked up when they played Freak Valley in Germany, and on the most basic level, they’ve been together for 14 years, so yeah, Freedom Hawk coming across like they know what they’re doing is well enough earned.

They dipped back to 2011’s Holding On (review here) late in the set for the ultra-catchy “Indian Summer” and gave representation to their 2009 self-titled (review here) and 2008 debut, Sunlight, which Ripple reissued in 2017, but new or old, their material’s central purpose has remained true in conveying the strength of their songwriting. O’Neill, who also fronts thrashers The Pestilence Choir, is way more metal than MortonCave or Hines, at least in outward appearance, but that adds a bit of edge to the otherwise smooth corners of Freedom Hawk‘s stage presence, and they were a blast to watch. It had been too long, clearly.

A good general rule for life is any time you can see Yawning Man, do it. When I last caught them, headlining at Borderland Fuzz Fiesta (review here) in Arizona in early 2016, they were practically a family band, with keys and additional guitar and so on. For this tour, the traveling three-piece was what’s become the modern core of the group: guitarist Gary Arce, bassist Mario Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson. And they’re masters of what they do. One could go on and on about Yawning Man‘s legacy as one of the principal architects of Californian desert rock — and I have, on multiple occasions — but what gets discussed far less is just how much they stand out even from so many of the groups they helped inspire. With Arce‘s signature tone ever at the center of their instrumental, wide-open approach, their atmosphere is immediately identifiable, and the character with which they bring their material to life is as vibrant as that material is subtle. Over the course of more than three decades, they’ve carved a niche for themselves that is theirs alone.

And I’m not saying Mario Lalli was there when they invented cool or anything, but he’s definitely the guy they had in mind for it. Switching between picking and fingering his bass in such a way as to add nuance to Arce‘s echoing lines or emphasize a sonic weight with a strummed chord, Lalli — who also fronts Fatso Jetson — was locked in immediately and incredible to watch as he held down the low end. Looking kind of gaunt in a lined hoodie and with a cap pulled down over his face, he was all-business save for jumping on mic quickly to thank the crowd for showing up, etc., but just unreal to watch him play, and as Stinson held together the molten vibes encompassing the room, Lalli and Arce showed off the inimitable chemistry that’s served as the root cause for the spread of their influence. Yeah, it was cold out, and yeah, it was a weeknight, and yeah, real life loomed outside the door like some kind of invisible babadook, but as they peppered The Revolt Against Tired Noises material with “Perpetual Oyster,” it was hard to think of them as anything other than a classic band living up to their reputation.

It was an early show and they were done by 11PM, which I don’t know if that’s a capitulation to how the neighborhood around the Vitus has gentrified over the last three-to-four years or what — there didn’t seem to be a dance party starting, which sometimes happens after rock gigs elsewhere — but with more than an hour’s ride back to Jersey afterward, I took anyway. I don’t get out as often as I used to, and it’s mostly anxiety-based. I get worried about seeing people, meeting people, not remembering names of people I’ve met once or twice, taking pictures, on and on, but this was a good show and it felt good to be there. I didn’t seem to be the only one who thought so.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

Read more »

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

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

the-top-30-of-2018

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

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

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

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

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

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

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

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

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

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

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

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

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

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

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

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

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

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

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

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

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

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

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

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

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

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

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

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

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

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

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

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

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

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

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

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

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

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

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

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

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

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

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

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

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

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

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

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

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

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

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

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

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

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

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

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

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

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

6. All Them Witches, ATW

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

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

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

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

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

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

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

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

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

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

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

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

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

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

Special Note

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

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

Best Short Release of the Year

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

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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

Okay, That’s It

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

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

So thanks.

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

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

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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