Friday Full-Length: YOB, The Illusion of Motion

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

In 2003, YOB released their second album, Catharsis. In 2005, they’d issue The Unreal Never Lived (discussed here), which was their final outing before their flameout and eventual return a few years later. The former is an emotional landmark and sonic breakthrough and the latter both a stylistic and spiritual achievement that stands as one of the best records of its decade. So maybe it’s the case that 2004’s The Illusion of Motion gets lost in the mix sometimes between its higher-profile year-earlier predecessor and year-later follow-up. Fair enough, but at four tracks and 56 minutes, The Illusion of Motion nonetheless represents what at the time were several pivotal steps forward for the Eugene, Oregon, trio, in production and execution alike.

The Illusion of Motion was YOB‘s first outing through Metal Blade Records, which picked them up after Catharsis even though the band had never really toured showed no real signs of doing so. It was set to be released on my birthday in 2004, but I recall the CD showed up at my office — because in 2004, physical promos were very much still a thing — some time before that for review. Having been such a fan of the prior outing, I was obviously excited to know what they’d do this next time out, especially on such a continued quick turnaround; YOB‘s album-per-year pace started with their 2002 debut, Elaborations of Carbon, on 12th Records. Immediately the breadth of the production was wider and fuller. YOB — then the trio of guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Isamu Sato and drummer Travis Foster — had yet to sound so clear and powerful, but what “Ball of Molten Lead,” “Exorcism of the Host,” “Doom #2” and the 26-minute title-track itself would accomplish was much more than just an uptick in basic quality of sound. Engineer Jeff Olsen (not to be confused with former Trouble drummer Jeff Olson) had worked on YOB‘s 2000 demo (discussed here) as well as their first two albums, and would continue his relationship with the band on The Unreal Never Lived and Scheidt‘s short-lived post-YOB unit Middian, before coming back in to work with the band again on 2011’s Atma (review here), which followed 2009’s Sanford Parker-produced return outing, The Great Cessation (review here; discussed here), but already after three times in the studio together, he and the three-piece would’ve been well familiar with each other’s methods, and a progression of both sides was evident across those early YOB offerings, including The Illusion of Motion.

But still, the album was more than just a bridge from Catharsis to The Unreal Never Lived, and that’s the pointyob the illusion of motion that to me is so worth underscoring. The noise that YOB brought to bear on “The Illusion of Motion” — not to mention the excruciating patience with which the song was delivered; that ending where it cut back to the quiet part — would serve as a reference point for future outings, particularly The Great Cessation before their melodic progression really came to the fore with Atma and the two albums to-date since. At the same time, the intensity of “Doom #2,” which at just over six minutes long remains the shortest song YOB have ever put out as well as arguably the most forwardly intense. It was basically a hardcore track filtered through YOB‘s tonality, resulting in a cacophony that still leaves me wondering why they don’t play it live every now and again. Of course, “Ball of Molten Lead” was and 15 years later still is a clarion to come worship at the altar of sonic largesse, and though it wouldn’t be proper to call its winding movement subtle, the sense of attack it fostered, particularly in its later reaches — that start-stop crashing behind the riff that YOB would use again on The Unreal Never Lived‘s own epic, “The Mental Tyrant,” while also introducing the gallop that would become yet another signature of their approach — was a standout even among the most aggressive material they’d yet constructed, and to answer it with the noise wash of “Exorcism of the Host,” with its gruelingly slow churn initially giving way to something as primal as it was cosmic, only made The Illusion of Motion more stunning in its impact and more expansive in its reach. It was a record that signaled YOB‘s continued forward creative movement, which is something that thankfully is ongoing, but at the time, it was also the apex of it, and whatever they’d go on to do afterward, it was a pinnacle moment that marked their arrival in more ways than just the wider distribution of a Metal Blade release — though I’m sure that didn’t hurt either.

For me to point out some 20-plus years after they got their start that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band is superfluous. I’ll make no pretense toward not approaching their work from a fan’s perspective — because I’m a fan — but even so, the level of artistry they’ve brought to doom, the influence they’ve had across borders and subgenres especially after getting back together with Aaron Rieseberg on bass and pursuing their craft through Atma, 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here) and last year’s Our Raw Heart (review here) is still and will likely continue to ripple out. The Illusion of Motion was an essential moment in making that happen — the first time they really brought their style out to engage a wider audience and began to translate their forward-thinking creativity into an increasingly realized songcraft. You wouldn’t have The Illusion of Motion without Catharsis, and you wouldn’t have The Unreal Never Lived without The Illusion of Motion. Those albums are intertwined in how they tell the narrative of YOB discovering their sound and, ultimately, needing to step away from it before coming to realize how crucial that expression truly was and still is.

YOB toured in North America this Spring with Voivod and Amenra and just wrapped a European run with Neurosis. They’ll be at Psycho Las Vegas next week, playing the Beach Stage at Mandalay Bay, which is a thing that I expect those who are fortunate enough to see will be speaking about for a long time. I haven’t seen Fall tour plans, but if they wanted to take a season off, it’d be nothing if not well earned.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

We’ve been back up in Massachusetts since… Wednesday? There’s a large stack of boxes behind me in the kitchen. More upstairs, more downstairs in the basement, and more to be packed. The movers come at 9AM. The 27-footer U-Haul which I’ll drive down to NJ tomorrow needs to be picked up before they get here. The baby is awake, and I’m sure The Patient Mrs. is too. We’re all out of our minds. Moving is awful. To wit, the Hierarchy of Terrible Shit that Happens to Everyone:

  1. Cancer
  2. Divorce
  3. Moving

Everything else is somewhere under that.

But we’ll get through, and if we need to come back up here to finish more stuff before the sale on this place closes on the 23rd, we’ll do that. It’ll get done, one way or the other. If it has to happen during naptimes, so be it. Clearly it does.

I know I’ll be in Brooklyn for Neurosis on Sunday. I know that. We drive south tomorrow — why not today? I’m not sure; need to ask; traffic concerns, maybe? but we’re packing our bed so would need to buy an aerobed if we stay — and hey, maybe after today, it’s done. Maybe we’ll get it all finished. That’d be a nice surprise.

But anyway, after that Neurosis live review on Monday and a long-delayed Lightning Born review on Tuesday, I don’t know what’s up for the week. Let’s assume stuff.

Would anyone have interest if I posted audio interviews around here? I’d like to get back to doing proper phone interviews, but I don’t really have time to transcribe them. What if I tried to kind of do a more conversational kind of thing, like Fresh Air with Riffs or something like that? Let me know what you think? I’m super-awkward on the phone or Skype, but that might be fun too. Just an idea I had this week while I was thinking about 15 other things as well.

Alright.

Great and safe weekend. No Gimme show this week, but the repeat is Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Forum, radio, merch, awesome.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk shirts & hoodies

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Freak Valley Festival Announces 2020 Dates; Live Videos Posted

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 27th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

freak valley logo

The next installment of Freak Valley Festival will be held June 11-13, 2020, and I’m telling you right now, I want to be there. It’s held in Siegen, Germany, and as I’ve been writing lineup announcements for the fest over the last two years or so, I’ve been embarrassed to be invited and unable to make it. This year, Freak Valley was held not only the same weekend as Maryland Doom Fest in the US — where I was — but also as Hellfest in France, and probably six or seven other festivals throughout Europe I can’t think of off the top of my head. Was Copenhell this past weekend too? Yup.

Jesus.

This year, Freak Valley announced — I didn’t write it — they were teaming up with the iconic German concert-video institution Rockpalast to live stream the event as it happened, and the results were staggering. I sat in the early part of the day with my jaw hanging open and watched Monolord absolutely devastate the huge crowd assembled before them, the level of production and the job capturing it — audio and video — absolutely gorgeous. King Buffalo put on an incredible show. Electric Moon! So much awesome, so little time.

The only bummer was Slomatics having to cancel, but they’ve reportedly already been invited for 2020, so at least that’s something to look forward to, but the videos of the sets that came together and were streamed are awesome and still available for your perusal. Some aren’t up on YouTube yet, so I’m including the streams direct as they appeared on Thee Facebooks when they were live. I started out with five of them and then saw the Spaceslug one and had to add them as the sixth. Of course there’s also YOB, New Zealand’s Arc of Ascent and the aforementioned Monolord, Electric Moon and King Buffalo. I figure six-plus hours of live material should probably be enough to keep you occupied for a while. It’s certainly been doing right by me.

Enjoy:

YOB

Monolord

Arc of Ascent

King Buffalo

Spaceslug

Electric Moon

Freak Valley Festival website

Freak Valley Festival on Thee Facebooks

Freak Valley Festival on Instagram

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Live Review: YOB, Voivod & Amenra in Brooklyn, 04.04.19

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

YOB (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I arrived at the Warsaw in Brooklyn early enough to go to the market across the street and buy gum, go inside the venue and use the restroom, come back out and meander a bit and still be first in line to get in the door to see YOB, Voivod and Amenra, so yes, I was eager to see the show. And I’ll confess that after seeing Voivod in August at Psycho Las Vegas (review here) and Amenra at Høstsabbat (review here) in Oslo this past October, the band I was most overdue in seeing was YOB. It would be my first YOB gig since the release last year of Our Raw Heart (review here) on Relapse and going back even further than that to 2015. It’s been an adventurous couple of years, but still, that’s unacceptable.

Fortunately for me and everyone else in the venue — and perhaps, given the volume, everyone on the entire block — YOB were headlining. Amenra were soundchecking before doors opened and this would be my first time seeing them not in a festival setting. Being somewhat used to the Belgium-based forerunners of European post-metal with a high-grade production value in terms of lights, projections, strobe effects and so on, I was interested to find out how it would translate to a smaller stage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were blisteringly intense. The drastic contrast of their ambience and weighted sway seemed especially powerful as I stood by the low-end side of the stage for the lurching “Plus Près de Toi” from 2017’s Mass VI. They’ve been to Brooklyn at least once each year since that record came out, but in this context, they brought a headliner presence to the opening slot. There wasn’t one band of the three who wouldn’t readily headline their own tour.

Amenra probably aren’t a band I’d seek out on their own, but I’ve never regretted watching them play when I’ve had occasion to do so, and from where I sit there’s no denying the creative force behind cuts like “Razoreater” and “A Solitary Reign,” both of which were aired at the Warsaw ahead of the finale of “Diaken” from the last album. They’re maybe a bit tighter in their conception of what they do than I can fully appreciate, but they remain sonically devastating, and for the contrast with Canadian sci-fi metal legends Voivod alone, it was a fascinating experience. The sheer incongruity of the one into the other was a sight to behold, but once the switch was flipped and Voivod went on, the whole vibe in the room changed and went along with them, the Quebecois four-piece running through a set of classics and newer songs, smiling all the while.

They are a very, very specific kind of fun. It’s not everyone’s kind of fun, otherwise Voivod would’ve become Metallica, but their alien-rhythm punk-metal-proto-thrash-prog remains not so much ahead of its time, but from its own dimension. The opened with “Post Society” and vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger mentioned ahead of “Obsolete Beings” that they’d recently won the Juno award for metal with their latest album, The Wake, from whence that song comes, but if it was more recent stuff or “Into My Hypercube” from 1989’s Nothingface and “The Lost Machine” from 1993’s The Outer Limits, they were absolutely unmistakable, and as was the case last summer in the sweltering Las Vegas heat, theirs was among the most unabashedly joyful performances I’ve ever seen from a band that might be considered in any way. Voivod were having their very own kind of fun.

It was infectious, and I think if there was going to be a vaccine, it probably would’ve been developed sometime in the last 38 years. They ended the night with “Voivod” and a heartfelt shout to founding guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, who passed away in 2005, before the band got even that portion of “their due” that they’ve received up to now. I’m not sure I’d put a percentage to that, but I know it’s on the low side, and when they were done, Snake, founding drummer Michel “Away” Langevin, bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche and guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain took time to pass out their setlists and shake hands in the crowd. It sounds corny to say, but they were essentially sharing their love for what they do with the audience, both while they were playing and after. They’re one of the most admirable bands on the planet, for that as well as the decades of aesthetic innovation.

And then YOB played. Ha.

Let’s face it. YOB have been at it one way or another for the last 20-plus years, and they’ve only ever pushed themselves forward. I think every single seeing-YOB-is-a-spiritual-experience cliché has been exhausted at this point in their career — true though it otherwise might be — so I’ll spare you that, but I think it’s worth taking a minute to appreciate the relentless creativity that drives the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster. And that’s not just a question of longevity. YOB don’t put out records because, “okay, well, we gotta go get back on tour, so we need to make an album.” They do it because they have something to express emotionally or something to contemplate and process through music. Their work has never ceased growing, and as they opened their set by tearing a chasm through the universe with “Prepare the Ground,” I couldn’t help but think how incredibly special and rare a band they are. To wit, there is one YOB. Eight billion people walking around the planet or something like that. One YOB.

The set was “Prepare the Ground,” “Kosmos,” “The Lie that is Sin,” “Marrow,” “Grasping Air” and “Burning the Altar,” and if six songs doesn’t sound like much to you, I humbly invite you to go listen to any single one of those cuts somewhere on the internet and be bowled over by them. “Marrow” had eyes moistened throughout the venue, and they brought out bassist Levy Seynaeve from Amenra to do guest vocals on “Grasping Air,” which I have a hard time thinking of as anything other than a dream come true. Even before that though, “Kosmos” and “The Lie that is Sin” made for a particularly resonant pairing ahead of “Marrow,” building on the momentous nod of “Prepare the Ground” with methodical groove that is continually YOB‘s own. Like I said at the outset, it had been too long. I didn’t realize until I was standing there watching them just how much too long it had been. Much too long.

No encore, but none necessary after “Burning the Altar.” I was kind of in a daze after that, to be honest, but stayed a couple minutes to chat rather than darting back to the car. It was a scheduling glitch that got me to see this show in Brooklyn rather than Boston, but no regrets. Nights like this one don’t happen all the time, and to not take advantage when they do is to genuinely miss out.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 12

Posted in Radio on March 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gimme radio logo

A few episodes ago, I played Graven and floated the idea of doing a whole episode that was super-aggressive. At the same time, I thought a show that went totally the other way would be cool too; all acoustic or near-acoustic stuff and nothing really aggro about it. Well, then my silly brain got started wondering why not do both? So here we are. The first hour? Oh that’s mad. Lots of sludge, lots of screaming. When you start off with YOB’s “Nothing to Win,” you know you’re throwing down some anger. I probably won’t play Primitive Man that often. This time, it felt important to make the point. So it’s there next to Coltsblood. Point made.

Second hour? Well, it starts with Lamp of the Universe, so things get pretty trippy and pretty mellow and they basically stay that way with T.G. Olson, Conny Ochs, No Man’s Valley, The Book of Knots — because god damn, I love that song — and Scott Kelly and the Road Home — ditto — getting progressively moodier as they go. From there, it’s time to jam to the end of the episode with WEEED and Träden, who I recently saw have a show coming up at Rough Trade in New York. No way I’ll be cool enough to be there, but it’s an awesome idea anyhow.

All told, I’m happy with how this one came out, and for being kind of a hodgepodge conceptually, I think it’s worth exploring different kinds of heaviness and what makes a particular song or moment feel that way. If you listened last night or hear the replay, thanks.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 03.17.19

YOB Nothing to Win Clearing the Path to Ascend
Mastiff Vermin Plague*
Swarm of the Lotus From Embers When White Becomes Black
Sadhus, The Smoking Community Sobbing Children Big Fish*
BREAK
Horsehunter Bring out Yer Dead Horsehunter*
Primitive Man Sterility Caustic
Coltsblood Snows of the Winter Realm Split with Un*
Lamp of the Universe The Leaving Align in the Fourth Dimension*
T.G. Olson Backslider Riding Roughshod*
Conny Ochs Hammer to Fit Doom Folk*
No Man’s Valley Murder Ballad Outside the Dream*
The Book of Knots Traineater Traineater
Scott Kelly & the Road Home The Field that Surrounds Me The Forgiven Ghost in Me
BREAK
WEEED Carmelized You are the Sky*
Träden När lingonen mognar (Lingonberries Forever) Träden

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Tuesday at 9AM. Next show is March 31. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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YOB Announce Summer European Tour with Neurosis

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

yob (Photo by James Rexroad)

So the deal is that within the span of three months YOB are going to be out on tour with Voivod and then Neurosis? Sounds like it’s a damn good year to be YOB. Well earned, of course, what with the universal acclaim that greeted 2018’s Our Raw Heart (review here), and the fact that, uh, they’re incredible. The Voivod dates — they’re also with Amenra, lest they be left out — were previously announced, but I wanted to include them here as well, both because that tour is badass and because it emphasizes how much YOB have long since become a full-on, full-time act over the last however many years. “Oh, they’re hitting the road for a month in the States and then doing fests in Europe? Yeah, that’s how it goes.” One remembers it being a novelty that they were leaving Oregon at all.

But then, one is old as hell, so there you go.

From the PR wire:

YOB: Announce Summer European Tour Dates w/ Neurosis

Oregon’s cosmic trio YOB return to Europe this summer opening for doom metal legends Neurosis. The tour begins July 11 in Alperstedt, DE and ends July 26 in Gdasnk, PL. All confirmed tour dates are listed below.

YOB are touring in support of their critically acclaimed album Our Raw Heart.

“We are deeply honored to be supporting Neurosis in Europe this Summer. We’ve said it before and will say it again: collectively, they are our favorite band. We cannot wait for these shows, to play for people who are in attendance, and watch Neurosis every night. It can’t get better than that.”

YOB’s Our Raw Heart is out now on CD/LP/Digital via Relapse Records. Physical packages are available via Relapse.com HERE and Digital Downloads / Streaming Services HERE.

YOB Spring Tour w/ Voivod & Amenra:
03.26 Minneapolis MN Fine Line
03.27 Chicago IL Thalhia Hall
03.28 Columbus OH Ace of Cups
03.29 Cleveland OH Grog Shop
03.30 Toronto ON Phoenix
03.31 Buffalo NY Town Ballroom
04.02 Portland ME Geno’s
04.03 Boston MA Royale
04.04 Brooklyn NY Warsaw
04.05 Philadelphia PA Union Transfer
04.06 Richmond VA Broadberry
04.07 Raleigh NC Kings
04.09 Knoxville TN Concourse (Co-presented with American Icon)
04.10 Atlanta GA Masquerade / Hell
04.11 New Orleans LA One Eyed Jack’s
04.12 Houston TX Warehouse Studios
04.13 Austin TX Barracuda
04.14 Dallas TX Gas Monkey
04.16 Denver CO Marquis Theater*
04.18 Mesa AZ Club Red+
04.19 San Diego CA Brick by Brick w/ Monolord+
+ = YOB only
* = no Voivod

YOB Tour Dates:
Jul 11 Rome, IT @ Ostia Antica Roman Amphitheater *
Jul 12 Milan, IT @ Carroponte *
Jul 13 Dour, BE @ Dour Festival *
Jul 14 Bern, CH @ Dachstock *
Jul 16 Barcelona, ES @ Sala Apolo *
Jul 17 Biarritz, FR @ Atabal *
Jul 18 Paris, FR @ Bataclan *
Jul 19 Birmingham, UK @ Supersonic Festival +
Jul 20 London, UK @ 02 Forum Kentish Town +
Jul 23 Vienna, AT @ Arena *
Jul 24 Budapest, HU @ Durer Kert *
Jul 25 Berlin, DE @ Festival Kreuzberg *
Jul 26 Warsaw, PL @ Progresja *
Jul 27 Gdansk, PL @ B90 *
* w/ Neurosis
+ w/ Neurosis & Godflesh

YOB is:
Mike Scheidt – Guitar, Vocals
Aaron Rieseberg – Bass
Travis Foster – Drums

www.yobislove.com
www.facebook.com/quantumyob
www.twitter.com/quantumyob
www.instagram/com/quantumyob
www.relapse.com
www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords

YOB, Our Raw Heart (2018)

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The Top 20 of 2018 Year-End Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

derp

If you’re reading this, congratulations on making it all the way through the existential rollercoaster that was 2018.

I hope you celebrated that year’s end and this year’s beginning in riotous fashion if that’s your thing, and if you’re more the stay-at-home-and-don’t-break-stuff type, I hope that was fun too.

Over the last month, best-of lists have been collected from all around the world and as we move into 2019, it’s time to do the results of the Year-End Poll for 2018.

What a year. As I look back on the lists submitted, of course I can’t help but think how absolutely incredible 2018 was for music. With the world crumbling around, creativity surged, and the quality of output was off the charts. I published my own list last week and was quickly inundated with stuff I forgot or that I missed owing to being robbed earlier this year — I guess I didn’t even realize until the post went up just how much that screwed me — and I’m sure there’s more still out there from what everyone turned in. It’s infinite. It keeps going. Trends change. Sounds change. People change. Creativity flourishes.

But I think if you’re reading this, you know why we’re here. We wound up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 discrete releases submitted. That’s more than five for every day of the year. And they came from 547 people, which is amazing. Accordingly, there should be plenty here to keep you busy for a while.

Not exactly suspenseful as to which was the album of the year, but it’s still interesting to see where stuff landed. Just to remind, there are two lists, one of the raw votes, and one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. Thanks as always to Slevin for the help in setting up the back end functionality and compilation scripts.

Let’s go:

Top 20 of 2018 — Weighted Results

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (1,087 points)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (721)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (478)
4. Earthless, Black Heaven (413)
5. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (408)
6. Windhand, Eternal Return (387)
7. All Them Witches, ATW (373)
8. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (354)
9. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (323)
10. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (315)
11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (285)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (274)
13. Graveyard, Peace (225)
14. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (222)
15. Weedpecker, III (212)
16. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (197)
17. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (189)
18. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (188)
19. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (167)
20. ASG, Survive Sunrise (164)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (150)
Gozu, Equilibrium (148)
Judas Priest, Firepower (148)
Naxatras, III (148)
Forming the Void, Rift (146)

I’m not saying everyone had to love the Sleep record, but there’s no way it wasn’t the biggest underground heavy release of the year. That top spot was established the first day the poll went up and while YOB caught up as both neared 100 votes, there was no doubt how it would ultimately shake out. It was pretty clear early on what people were passionate about, but there are some interesting differences between the raw vote and the weighted results even high on the list, as you’ll see below.

Top 20 of 2018 — Raw Votes

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (263 votes)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (185)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (141)
4. Windhand, Eternal Return (115)
5. Earthless, Black Heaven (109)
6. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (102)
7. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (101)
8. All Them Witches, ATW (95)
8. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (95)
9. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (93)
10. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (77)
10. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (77)
11. Graveyard, Peace (69)
12. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (67)
13. Weedpecker, III (63)
14. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (57)
14. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (57)
15. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (54)
16. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (50)
17. ASG, Survive Sunrise (48)
18. Gozu, Equilibrium (46)
19. Forming the Void, Rift (45)
20. Judas Priest, Firepower (43)
20. Khemmis, Bloodletting (43)
20. Mos Generator, Shadowlands (43)
20. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back (43)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (41)
Domkraft, Flood (40)
Naxatras, III (40)
Thou, Magus (40)

Everything else got fewer than 40 raw votes. Why cap it at 40? I don’t know. Good a place as any. And when a top 20 has 26 releases on it, I don’t imagine there will be too many complaints about not enough stuff being included. One can hope, anyhow. You can see the difference between Sleep and everyone else here as well, a pretty precipitous drop after both them and YOB, and YOB and High on Fire — the top three being well ahead of everyone else in terms of general agreement.

The ‘Respect the Hustle’ Award

Somewhere around the middle of the month, I noticed a massive surge of votes for a band called Entropía and their debut album, Invisible. A bunch of people with lists of 20 just including Entropía. I’ve included them below, you can see them. I didn’t know what was up, whether it was the band spamming the vote or what, so I sent them a message. Turns out they had sent the link to their email list and asked for votes, and that’s how they all got in. Well, okay.

They wound up with well over 750 raw votes (to remind, Sleep got 263), and it didn’t feel representative to have them be album of the year, but hey, I respect the hustle, so they get the award accordingly. Nicely done, folks. I’ve been doing Year-End Polls since like 2010 and that’s never happened before. Their totals were 2,367 points and 777 votes.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading. Whether this is the only post you’ve seen this year or you click ‘Like’ on everything that comes across your Facebook feed, your support is tremendously appreciated. This is the only post that will go up today, but we’ll be back to business as usual tomorrow, and in the meantime, you’ll find everybody’s list included after the jump.

All the best for 2019.

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Freak Valley 2019: Wolfmother, Brant Bjork, YOB, The Obsessed, Minami Deutsch and Dead Lord Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 27th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

FREAK VALLEY 2019 BANNER

The three-night Freak Valley fest has unveiled its first headliner in the form of Australia’s Wolfmother. You know, I wrote this announcement. Like two weeks ago. And I thought I put it up and then I got a message yesterday off of Jens, who runs the festival and he was like, “Uh dude, were you going to post that?” Hey, look. Forgetting to post a press release is one thing. It happens regularly enough around here. A lot of stuff comes in, people asking for coverage and so on. Forgetting to post a press release that I wrote? That’s a new level of head-up-my-ass for me. So yeah, if you saw this news already, my apologies, but I wanted to get it up here because, yes, I wrote it, and also because the lineup for Freak Valley 2019 is kicking ass. Next announcement I’ll be more timely. I hope.

The holidays are a special time for us all.

With apologies for tardiness:

FREAK VALLEY 2019 poster

°!° WOLFMOTHER °!° BRANT BJORK °!° YOB °!° THE OBSESSED °!° MINAMI DEUTSCH °!° DEAD LORD °!°

Freaks!

Some of you may have already seen the news that leaked, but in case not, Wolfmother are coming to headline Freak Valley Festival 2019! What you didn’t know yet is that Brant Bjork will also headline, and we’ve added Yob, The Obsessed, Minami Deutsch and Dead Lord to the bill!

WOLFMOTHER

The Australian ambassadors of classic heavy rock are celebrating 15 years since the release of their first EP next year, and we couldn’t be more proud to host them as a part of that amazing anniversary. Led by guitarist/vocalist Andrew Stockade, Wolfmother’s four albums have transcended the underground to earn acclaim from all corners of the globe.

Whether it was their landmark 2005 self-titled LP or 2016’s aptly-named Victorious, the band has never given up its roots in classic ‘70s rock and has never failed to push their ideas forward to new stages. Wolfmother have been a generation’s entrée to the ways of ‘70s heavy and its modern incarnations. We are thrilled and proud to have them headlining Freak Valley in 2019!

BRANT BJORK

Make no mistake, Brant Bjork is the godfather of desert rock. This year he joined forces with HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS to release Mankind Woman, a soulful dive into fuzzy funk and heavy groove with his signature jammy smoothness.

Brant Bjork sounds like the kind of cool we’d all like to be, and his live shows are not only a celebration of that and a chance to gawk at a living legend from Kyuss and Fu Manchu, but a chance to feel that righteousness in every fuzzy note and low desert punk vibe. He is unmistakable and we can’t wait to host him on the Freak Valley stage.

YOB

Some day, some place, in some context, you’ll be telling people about the time you saw YOB. Maybe FREAK VALLEY will be the first time you’ve ever caught the Oregonian trio live. Maybe not. But either way, that story will take place. Mark our words. YOB’s 2018 album, Our Raw Heart, continues a progressive thread that’s made them not only one of the most distinct bands in doom, but among the most pivotal heavy acts of their generation. Whether you’ve seen them before or not, they are utterly essential, like a spiritual restoration.

The Obsessed

Scott “Wino” Weinrich returns to Europe bringing with him the modern incarnation of ultra-classic doomers The Obsessed. The storied guitarist/vocalist known also for his work in Saint Vitus, The Hidden Hand, Spirit Caravan, Shrinebuilder, etc., leads the lineup of bassist Reid Raley (also Rwake) and drummer Brian Costantino in the revitalized power trio, and their 2017 album, Sacred, showed that their years away did nothing to dull the force of their impact. Mandatory doom.

Minami Deutsch

Tokyo space rockers Minami Deutsch make an exclusive European appearance at FREAK VALLEY 2019! That’s right: if you want ‘em — and you do — then Netphen/Deuz is the place to be. Working with the label Guruguru Brain, Minami Deutsch released their second LP, With Dim Light, this year, and mellowed out some of the space rocking furies of their self-titled debut, but the journey has just begun for these psychedelic explorers, and we can’t wait to be bathed in the warm lysergic sounds they’ll bring (only!) to FREAK VALLEY.

Dead Lord

How are you gonna say no to Dead Lord? You’re not. The Swedish Thin Lizzy-style bouncers have kicked around the underground in Europe and the UK for the last five years, and we’ve hosted them before at other events, but this will be their first appearance at FREAK VALLEY FESTIVAL itself, and we can’t wait to welcome their uptempo, classic-styled heavy rock to our stage. Their third album, In Ignorance We Trust, came out last year on Century Media Records, so make sure you’re schooled by the time they get here, because you won’t want to miss it.

Line-up 2019:
WOLFMOTHER, BRANT BJORK, YOB, The Obsessed, The Vintage Caravan, Electric Moon, Minami Deutsch, Spaceslug, Arc of Ascent, Dead Lord, Slomatics

FREAK VALLEY FESTIVAL 2019 // No Fillers – Just Killers

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YOB, Our Raw Heart (2018)

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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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