Anticipated Albums 2015

witchcraft-and-graveyard

After the late spring avalanche of great new releases last week, things are slowing down for the summer. It’s a good time to take stock of what we have to look forward to. Regular visitors to my Lists section will see that I keep an Upcoming Releases section at the bottom. Albums only make that when they get a title and official release date. For the most part, there are no titles and dates announced yet for these bands, though most have confirmed on Facebook and other venues that they are at some stage of recording, mixing or mastering. I’ll note which ones have been quiet and are included just for hopeful/wishful thinking. The Spotify playlist includes the most recent releases of the bands I’m obsessed with.

Graveyard

One of my top five favorite bands of the decade, Graveyard surprised everyone by issuing their second and third albums in a relative quick succession in 2011-12, which are currently my #3 & 4 albums of the 2010s. One of the few European bands that regularly tour the U.S., I’ve gotten to see them four times. I just missed their tour with Mastodon and Clutch because they skipped Chicago. I’d hoped they’d keep up their album-a-year pace, but you can’t have everything. Album number four should be ready by September according to the band.

Troubled Horse

Troubled Horse have members who share duties with fellow Swedish bands Witchcraft and Spiders. Their debut album Step Inside (2012) was one of my favorites that year, and since they have never played North America, I’m hoping another album will raise their profile and get them over here, perhaps opening for Witchcraft, who I haven’t seen since 2007. They announced their were writing the new album in April 2014, but have been quiet ever since. Fingers crossed it’ll just appear on the Rise Above catalog soon!

Dead Skeletons

This Icelandic psych band has been around for a while, with a decent debut album in 2011, Dead Magick.  It’s their EPs, however, that got me obsessed — Ord, Dead Comet and Buddha-Christ. They also contributed an impressive cover of “Riders On The Storm” for last year’s A Psych Tribute To The Doors. Darkly hypnotic yet melodic and memorable, this is the most perfect recipe of psych noir I’ve heard, after many others attempting something similar but failing to nail it.  This band is pretty inscrutable, so who knows when they’ll have a full-length, but I hope this year.

Mansion

Finnish occult psych rockers Mansion are even more mysterious than Dead Skeletons, though nearly prolific, having released three EPs in two years. The cultiest of the occult bands, they are followers of the Kartanoist cult. Does that mean if they were black metal they’d be the most Satanic? I’m not sure, I’d have to see them live to see what kind of vibe they have. I’d imagine they’d be at least as intense as The Devil’s Blood, and while they share some of the psych prog roots of Jess And The Ancient Ones, their sound has evolved quite a bit over the course of the EPs. It’s one of the reasons I’m so curious to hear the full-length, which the band said is coming this year.

Spirits Of The Dead

This Norwegian psych prog band’s third album Rumours Of A Presence was my album of the year for 2013. It still gets heavy rotation in my psychedelic doom cave, and I’m not even remotely sick of it. There’s early 70s references, but with a clean, meticulous modern sound in the recording. From the first listen, they’ve just left me wanting more, and as of early May there were photos of them in the recording studio. Yay! Now if we could just get a package tour of all the bands in this piece that have not made it to North America…

Witchcraft

Of course I can’t forget Witchcraft! Their 2004 debut played a huge part in reviving interest in new takes on proto-doom, and psych, inspiring dozens of bands to follow. Magnus Pelander was previously in a band called Norrsken, which also featured two future members of Graveyard. I got to see them in 2007, and then they disappeared for five years before coming out with the brilliant Lights Out (2012). Fortunately they will not be gone that long again, with reports on Facebook that their new album is coming along. Can’t freakin wait!

Wolf People

True story, I confused this band with semi-shitty indie band Wolf Parade, and ended up missing them when they came through town. Yeah, I wanna stab myself in the eye. Also delving in 1968-72 era psych prog influences, with a touch of gnarly dark folk, it’s easy to imagine them as Finnish or Norwegian, but they’re actually British. Their second album Fain (2013) was a big jump in development of their songwriting and sound. More please.

Dead Man

After first discovering Witchcraft, the result of a frenzied search for anything nearly as good resulted in Swedish band Dead Man, who also shared a member with Norssken. Their retro rock has a more folky, sometimes country-ish element, but with some killer progressive chops. I can imagine it being something like the Grateful Dead were aiming at in the early 70s, but in my opinion, never nailed. I could listen to their self-titled 2005 debut and Euphoria (2008) forever, but dang it would be nice to have some new songs. With no new albums for seven years, you’d think they’d broken up. But they’ve been fairly active playing shows the past couple years, including a recent tour with Blues Pills. They must have something coming out soon.

Dungen

Along with Witchcraft, Dungen was the other band that made a significant initial impact in 2004. They play around with different approaches to psych and prog, often with a jazzy flair. They’re great musicians to behold, having last toured after their sixth album Skit i allt (2010). Since then, Tame Impala has taken their approach in a more poppy direction and cleaned up in sales and sold out venues. Reine Fiske has been practically a full-time member of Motorpsycho and The Amazing since then, but a new Dungen album is long overdue. They give absolutely no clue if anything is coming.

More:

Magic Circle – Mysterious doom band appears to be working on a follow-up to their debut, which you can’t find anywhere anymore.

Christian Mistress – After Possession (2012), they forgot to tour the U.S.! I have no idea why, as they should have no problem drawing an audience. Finally, that tour is booked for September, and a title for their next album on Relapse, To Your Death, also due in September. Finally!

Iron Maiden - It’s been a while since their last, The Final Frontier (2010). It turns out they had mostly finished an album, but Bruce Dickinson got sick with tongue cancer. He thankfully is on the mend, and should be in shape to tour by 2016. In the meantime, the band promises to release the new one this year!

40 Watt SunThe Inside Room (2011) was rapturously received, and I’m sure a new one would have even more anticipation. I’ve heard nothing.

Gojira - I’ve kind of lost interest in most extreme and death metal, but I’ve always got time for a Gojira album. The French band keeps it interesting with some prog metal and I remember reading about progress on their next album last year, so it shouldn’t be long.

Golden Void - Their second album was finished in April and a summer release should be announced soon.

Grave Pleasures – Formerly Beastmilk, this Finnish post-punk band’s debut Climax (2013) was overshadowed by Savages at the time, but has grown steadily in stature ever since. Johan Snell left, and they added Linnéa Olsson from The Oath. They’re quite a supergroup now, with also members of In Solitude, Hexvessel and Oranssi Pazuzu! They’ve signed with Sony and should have a new album possibly by summer.

White Denim – I’ve raved about them often, the best live indie band going right now hands down. Corsicana Lemonade (2013) got some good reviews, but was inexplicably robbed when it came to the year-end polls and lists. I’d like to see them get the success they deserve, but James Petralli released a solo album as Bop English, Constant Bop just last month. He’s been touring that album, so I don’t know when a new White Denim will be coming. Until then, Constant Bop is a great diversion, since Petralli is the band’s main songwriter and voice. He of course toys with different ideas he wouldn’t have normally in his band, but it’s not a huge leap.

Sadly, Hidden Masters have confirmed that there is no new album in the works, and have corrected me that is their fault, not Rise Above’s, that they did not properly tour and support their brilliant debut album. Fingers crossed that they can get something happening for 2016! In the meantime, check out the first track, “She Broke The Clock of the Long Now.”

I could go on with Avatarium, Hammers Of Misfortune, PJ Harvey, Fellwoods, Om, Sleep, Spirit Caravan. With only one album title named so far (Christian Mistress’ To Your Death), who knows how this will eventually shake out. If nothing else, this piece will hopefully get other fans showing the bands their interest if there is still no new album by the end of the year. If just half of these 20 bands come out with something, holy shit, it’ll be a helluva good year.

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Ceremony – The L-Shaped Man (Matador)

Ceremony - The L-Shaped Man (Matador, 2015)When they formed in 2005, the Bay Area-based Ceremony were a hardcore punk band. After three albums, they did a 180 with Zoo (2012), which explored 80s-era British post-punk and even a bit of jangly indie rock and new wave. This intrigued some old fans and perplexed most, but also brought new ones on board like myself. If the band intentionally named themselves after the song that bridged the transition from Joy Division to New Order, this is most likely a return to the band’s earliest influences. There are actually not that many bands currently taking on such a muscular approach to the genre (Beastmilk/Grave Pleasures, Dark Blue, RA), which makes this an even more welcome addition to the post-punk family.

Everyone will likely hear different things, but to me it evokes Comsat Angels’ Sleep No More (1981), 1980-82 era Cure, and the gleaming obsidian oughties production of Interpol. Producer John Reis (Rocket from the Crypt) created a suitably stark, cavernous sound befitting the themes of destroyed relationships, isolation and despair. It’s Ross Farrar’s most emotionally charged writing, best exemplified by “The Separation,” the ringing melody is uplifting, making the painful sentiments all the more poignant.

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but the cover reminds me of XTC’s Skylarking (1986), which I played the shit out of the tape at the age of 16-17. While the album is a classic, I probably would have gotten even more out of the intensity of The L-Shaped Man. I may not feel such intense angst like I used to, but bands like Ceremony help me remember what it was like and empathize with those who continue to experience it.

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Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last (Castle Face)

Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated At Last (Castle Face, 2015)Back in 1992-93, I used to love this band called Th’ Faith Healers. I felt like I could listen to their mix of Can/Neu! worshipping motorik rhythms and fuzzy garage psych forever. Sadly they broke up pretty quickly, and a couple members carried on as Quickspace a few more years, but it wasn’t the same, and then it was over. That all happened in the UK, and I never got to see that band live. Meanwhile in the U.S., John Dwyer was graduating from high school just as that band got rolling. By the end of the decade, he had migrated from Providence, R.I. to San Francisco, and became active in a million bands. It wasn’t until his “family” band Thee Oh Sees’ ninth album Putrifiers II (2012) that I realized it’s kind of a musical reincarnation of Th’ Faith Healers, but far more prolific, and an extra “e” to spare. Songs like “Wax Face” and “Lupine Dominus” grabbed my attention, and “No Spell” sealed the deal for me from Floating Coffin (2013). The motorik psych fuzz is back!

Dwyer announced a hiatus that caused some concern, but it was short lived, as they released Drop last year. To be honest I wouldn’t mind if they slowed down enough to really pack an album with consistently great songs. When the release of Mutilator Defeated At Last was announced, I had a good feeling that this would be the one. The band has made plenty of great records, but all of them had filler to some extent. 20 listens later, all the cuts hold up, and overall sound heavier than anything they’ve done before. Like-minded garage psych brother Ty Segall got heavy with the self-titled Fuzz project in 2013, as did WAND on their latest album. I don’t necessarily need to see every garage psych band in California go stoner rock, but it is gratifying to hear some talented musicians get into more heavy textures.

“Web” kicks it off with that propulsive motorik beat that I love, somehow sounding both eerie and exuberant. It could easily have stretched twice it’s 4:58 length. “Withered Hand” extends the chugging rhythms, but with a bit of heavy proto-doom in the mix. “Lupine Ossuary” takes the opportunity to partake in some gleefully serrated psych shredding. It’s great to hear Dwyer really dig in and explore his chops like Ax Genrich of underrated kosmische guitar deities Guru Guru. The pace slows for “Sticky Hulks,” but the haunting licks are worthy of prime Jimmy Page, no kidding. “Holy Smoke” is a bit of a departure with acoustic picking and keyboards that recall the lushness of Love. Energy levels return to red with the frenzied rave-up “Rogue Planet” before simmering to a close with the atmospheric, hushed “Palace Doctor” laced with some fine surf guitar. At 33:22 it’s not their shortest album, but it certainly leaves you wanting more. Lucky for Thee Oh Sees fans, there’s practically an endless variety of recordings to choose from, including three volumes of singles compilations and EPs. A few months absorbing your catalog and you can probably come up with a killer mix that rivals their latest, and best album.

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Hard Rock Ascending

hard-rock-ascendingAnyone watching That Metal Show can be forgiven for thinking hard rock is dead. Eddie Trunk smooching the wrinkled asses of washed-up rockers is not a pretty sight, and their focus seems to be forever on side projects of former sidemen of former greats. I mean, the dudes gotta make a living, and I am drawn to the spectacle like moth to flame. I probably should check out the new Black Star Riders at some point. The frustrating thing is that there are a bunch of younger bands bringing a lot of new energy and life to to hard rock, who are almost completely ignored by the show, the mainstream press and music buyers. The other guys do occasionally give props to the likes of Witchcraft and Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats on the Pick of the Week segment (Trunk can’t be bothered with any new bands). Occult, doom and some psychedelic bands that lean toward indie rock are getting some attention, but there’s also some really strong hard rock bands. These hairy dudes may not make sexy copy in the gossip columns and blogs, and are probably not on a career path to fame and fortune, but they do really fucking love to play, and have put out some pretty great music recently.

When I reviewed Demon Eye’s Tempora Infernalia last week (full review here), I realized there are so many great hard rock releases out and are coming out soon, it would be hard to pick out just one other single release to review, and I needed to do another genre rundown type piece to catch up. A lot can fit in the hard rock category, which doesn’t have to be as generic as it sounds. Most of my picks here focus on proto-metal, prog, heavy psych, and some references to doom and NWOBHM.

Valkyrie – Shadows (Relapse)
When I first saw Valkyrie play at the Alehorn Of Power fest in Chicago seven years ago, they were already an extremely potent twin-guitar force to reckon with, having just come out with their second full-length Man Of Two Visions (2008). A lot has happened since then with Pete joining Baroness and taking them to some pretty special heights with his lead guitar. However, I was just as excited to see Valkyrie was still honing and performing their righteous proto-metal when they opened for Torche and Baroness a few years ago. Now their long-awaited third album is finally here, and it’s so worth the wait. Seven years of progress and growth are properly reflected in more filled-out, multi-faceted sound and richer songwriting. It’s more guitar-focused than ever, but just with more varied, heavier tones. Rich in melody and kickass solos, it really is something special, elevating Valkyrie to top tier levels alongside the likes of Slough Feg, Hammers of Misfortune, and now labelmates Baroness and Christian Mistress.

Mirror Queen – Scaffolds Of The Sky (Tee Pee)
I had a feeling just before the release of this NYC hard rocker’s second album that it would be something special. Since their decent debut From Earth Below (2011), they’ve worked hard touring the US and Europe, playing with Greenleaf, Truckfighters, Earthless and honing their craft. For the past month the album has constantly grown on me, their particular mix of psych prog and space rock unfolding more with each listen. Somewhat similar to Mondo Drag, they stake out their own cosmic territory in the spaces between classic hard rock (UFO), psych prog (Captain Beyond, Hawkwind) and NWOBHM, particularly its roots in twin-guitar pioneers like Wishbone Ash, Thin lizzy, Maiden, Priest.

Mondo Drag – Mondo Drag (RidingEasy)
Recorded back in 2012 when they were still in Iowa with the rhythm section from Radio Moscow who eventually defected to the Blues Pills, this was released earlier in the year by Kosmik Artifactz, and reissued last week via RidingEasy. Mondo Drag, now based in Oakland, drop most of the blues influences from those bands and go full-on psych prog, with a sound augmented by organ along the lines of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, and some magnificent cosmic jams like “Plumajilla” and “Pillars of the Sky” that will please fans of both Hawkwind and early Floyd.

Vidunder – Oracles & Prophets (Crusher)
With Sweden’s Crusher records label’s track record of Dead Man, Horisont, Spiders, and Blues Pills, I take keen note when they introduce a new band to the roster. Vidunder’s self-titled 2013 debut was promising, with some enjoyable Graveyard influenced tunes, but felt a little stiff. In the past couple years, the band has gotten the benefits of playing gigs with most of the bands mentioned, and learned a thing or two. Their second album definitely finds them coming into their own, infusing a breathless rush of garage rock energy, exemplified perfectly by their first single (and hilarious video) “Gone With Dawn.” While I doubt this band has ever heard them, it reminds me of seeing Soul Asylum back in their prime (1988 to be exact). Another brilliant contemporary that might have rubbed off on Vidunder the right way is Troubled Horse, who mix elements of classic rock, proto-metal, psych and an interesting injection of American roots and garage rock.

The Vintage Caravan – Arrival (Nuclear Blast)
When Iceland’s The Vintage Caravan formed in 2005, singer/guitarist Óskar Logi Ágústsson was just 11 years old! Like Free and Stray, growing up in a band was key to developing a mature voice very early on. After a self-titled debut in 2011, they enjoyed a big growth spurt for their follow-up Voyage, which they self-released in 2012, and was picked up by Nuclear Blast last year. On the world-weary ballad “Do You Remember,” Óskar sounds like a battleworn old soul, much like the precocious young Paul Rodgers did as a teen. The amazing vocal hook would have made it a huge hit 30 years ago. In the meantime the band relocated to Denmark and has done some hard touring with Grand Magus and Blues Pills, and Óskar Logi played a role in the Icelandic film Metalhead, though he is killed in a horrible fashion within the first few minutes. Two and a half years is a long time for a young band like The Vintage Caravan to grow, and I was curious how they would evolve. They already sounded like a mature, professional band with instrumental chops at least on the level of Blues Pills, and classic songwriting skills like Rival Sons.  I thought maybe they would go in a more prog direction hinted at on the last album, but instead, they got heavier, darker, and more focused on melody as opposed to proggy jams. I hear more of a Graveyard influence, which is totally welcome. That’s not to say they don’t let loose on their instruments. On single “Babylon,” there’s no shortage of changes and solos to keep you on your toes, and they maintain a psychedelic edge. “Eclipsed” and “Innerverse” stretch out to nearly 7 minutes, and on the 8:46 “Winter Queen,” they build slowly, with a pretty sweet payoff. “Carousel” is another highlight, hitting some minor keys for a more metal feel, including some nimble bass playing worthy of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris. Out now in Europe and June 2 in North America, this album could totally blow up this Icelandic band’s audience to the point that they’re headlining tours within the year.

Venomous Maximus – Firewalker (Shadow Kingdom)
These Houston rockers got me crazy excited with their first EP The Mission (2011). Beg Upon The Light (2012) was great, but I kind of missed the sloppy doom punk approach to the EP. On this album they brought back some of that looseness while still experimenting with some keyboard sounds and somewhat unpredictable sounding production along the lines of some QOTSA recordings while at the same time being the inverse of their style of robo-rock. For example, ”Dark Waves” manages to reference the post-new-wave production of mid-80s The Cars and Black Sabbath. Vocalist Greg Higgins has a pretty distinct approach that may not be very melodic, but works great as a narrator, conveying both mock terror and true occult horror.

Corsair – One Eyed Horse (Shadow Kingdom)
Through the course of their career of two EPs and two albums since 2010, this Charlottesville, Virginia band has not been shy about the fact that they worship progressive rock and early metal, particularly the twin-guitar harmony pyrotechnics of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. Their second album One Eyed Horse is a clear improvement in songwriting, with more attention paid on vocal melodies and assembling dynamic, memorable songs. This pays off big time with the incredibly catchy “Brothers.” The vocals on the title track even manage to channel Phil Lynott’s soulful melancholy, no small achievement. I’ve been listening to this all year, and while it didn’t stay at the very top of my list, it has held up very well, and is highly recommended to those excited for the new Valkyrie and crave more.

Spidergawd – II (Cripsin Glover)
Norway’s Spidergawd were formed in 2013, and includes the rhythm section of psych prog legends Motorpsycho. Spidergawd eschews the prog for more balls-out heavy psych along the lines of early stoner psych pioneers Monster Magnet and Fu Manchu. Their self-titled album came out to little fanfare last year, and as soon as I heard it late in the year, it was already announced that their second was coming out soon. No side project, this band is firing on all cylinders and hopefully primed to start touring beyond Europe soon, as all indications are they are a balls-out greatass live band.

Cherry Choke – Raising The Waters (Elektrohasch)
For the longest time I totally thought these Brits were German, due to their association with Colour Haze via the Elektrohasch label. I was a big fan of their brand of 60s/early 70s influenced garage psych on their 2009 debut and A Night in the Arms of Venus Leads to a Lifetime on Mercury (2011). To be honest I was a little surprised they veered from their garage psych into heavier rock territory on the new album. However, it’s no doubt a worthy entry in the canon of what seems to be this decade’s hard rock renaissance. Whether this is simply an artistic revival or actually goes commercial remains to be seen.

Many of the albums are being released by tomorrow (Tuesday May 19) and should show up in Spotify then, so check back then. Demon Eye will show up at some point, and The Vintage Caravan probably not until June 2. Also coming out is Orchid, Sign Of The Witch (proto-metal & doom) on May 25, The Darkness, Last Of Our Kind June 1, Goatsnake, Black Age Blues, stoner doom, June 2, Lucifer, Lucifer I on June 16, FOGG, High Testament and Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind both on June 23.

Sammal – Myrskyvaroitus (Svart)
Sammal are a Finnish all-out prog band who are not that hard, but certainly give nods to 70s hard rock influences like Thin Lizzy, Camel, Birth Control, Budgie. Like a few other Finnish bands, they prefer to sing in their native language, which makes the music sound that much more mysterious and exotic, but also slightly harder to get into. Their self-titled debut came out just a year ago. Just like Demon Eye and Spidergawd, they’ve come out with a strong follow-up within a year. I hope this becomes a trend!

Captain Crimson – Ageless Time (Transubstans)
On the Swedish band’s debut Dancing Madly Backwards (2012), they referenced proto-metal and prog along the lines of The Groundhogs, Cactus and Captain Beyond. While they always had some blues roots, the new one goes more in that direction and a general 70s boogie sound, which doesn’t immediately get me excited. However, their playing is better than ever, and the album has much to recommend.

The Atomic Bitchwax – Gravitron (Tee Pee)
These New Jersey guys are lifers, having released their debut 16 years ago, and formed over 22 years ago. With two of them also members of Monster Magnet, they are part of an elite few including Fu Manchu that have bridged the eras of the beginnings of stoner rock through it’s literal explosion throughout Europe this past decade. And they sound better than ever — a strong case can be made that their sixth album is their best, or at least as great as their debut.

Death Alley – Black Magick Boogieland (Tee Pee)
One of the things I find charming about heavy bands from Europe (Death Alley are from the Netherlands) is their sheer un-selfconscious enthusiasm at embracing terms like “Boogieland.” Their love of the roots of both proto-metal and pre-punk does indeed involve a little Grand Funk type boogie along with MC5, Sabbath and the early brass knuckle speed rockabilly of Motörhead.

That covers all the favorites that currently made my top 100. Just outside is Halestorm, who are a good band, but I’m not into their polished style quite so much. They are immensely successful and don’t need my help! Also recommended are the post-hardcore of Louisville’s Coliseum and Canadians Conduct, who probably feature more post-punk and noise rock than hard rock, but are pretty dang hard.

Faith No More – Sol Invictus (Reclamation!)
I’ve never really been a fan. I like some of Mike Patton’s projects, and I admired Angel Dust (1992), but was never inspired to listen to them a lot. But they are a good hard rock band, and this is a pretty big deal, their first album in 18 years. On first listen it’s not too bad, but still not my thing. It certainly merits mentioning, and will probably outsell all the other albums above combined. I would just politely implore all you masses of FNM fans to check out some of the other releases above too!

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Demon Eye – Tempora Infernalia (Soulseller)

Demon Eye -  Tempora Infernalia (2015, Soulseller)With the average time span between album releases being somewhere between three and four years these days, it’s kind of thrilling when a favorite new band follows up their debut with another album in just a year. You’d think it would make sense for more bands influenced by the 70s era of rock, when giants roamed the earth, dropping albums every year or less. Back then it was the strategy of labels big and small to regularly have fresh music to promote with each tour. It’s a different economic model now, which makes it such a treat when a band like Demon Eye can duplicate that kind of pace on a much smaller budget.

Like a lot of bands working in the sub-genres of retro/occult rock, heavy psych and proto-metal/doom, the members of Demon Eye don’t make a living solely from their music, but rather split their time between multiple jobs and bands. Leader Erik Sugg is a children’s librarian in Raleigh, NC, plays music for kids in Mr. Erik’s Storytime, spins soul records, writes for Occult Rock and Sludgelord, and has also played in Corvette Summer. Sugg is clearly a devoted student of the riff, and while Deep Purple (who’s “Demon Eye” inspired the band’s name), early Black Sabbath and Pentagram are key touchstones to their brand of proto-metal, there’s a colorful, monstrous menagerie lurking beneath the surface. Intelligent, thoughtful songwriting with interesting structures just shy of prog tell engaging sinister stories that hold up well with repeated listens. Tempora Infernalia is a continuation of their sound established on Leave The Light, loaded with some of  their most memorable, catchy tracks like “I’ll Be Creeping” (no it’s not a cover of the classic Free song) “End of Days,” “In The World, Not Of It” and “Black Winds.” In addition to great riffs, they benefit from some memorable vocal melodies, which is relatively rare in these genres. “Poison Garden” seems to be a respectful nod to one of their contemporary inspirations, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, while retaining their own sound, and some great Iommi style soloing. Another slight detour from the course is the watery psychedelic meditation, “Please, Father.”

It seems like yesterday when Witchcraft released their first two albums in 2004-05, and the underground proto-doom fans went nuts for more. Since then it’s developed into quite an avalanche of new bands treading this territory. Among the mediocre to great albums, Demon Eye stand out as genre leaders, particularly when some of the older, established bands are missing in action. Not just a studio project, they haven’t toured heavily, but it’s well worth a roadtrip to catch them on one of their mini-tours, because they’re absolutely mesmerizing live. | Buy

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Arenna – Given To Emptiness (Nasoni)

Arenna - Given To Emptiness (2015)During the five year lapse between Colour Haze albums, Arenna emerged with their full-length debut at the perfect time with Beats Of Olarizu (2011). While it seemed they were simply hatched in perfection, with just the right fuzzy guitar tones, the Spanish heavy psych rockers had been kicking around honing their craft since at least 2005. While the vocals were clearly influenced by Kyuss’ John Garcia and Colour Haze was the most prominent band to expand on those desert rock tones with a Hendrixian flair, Arenna have carved their own niche.  In a musical world currently rich with all kinds of psychedelic music, some rooted in classic 60′s songwriting structures, others veering into progressive territories, Arenna are part of an alluring, underground European network who worship the riff, tone and texture, with vocals and hooks taking a backseat, if they’re even there at all. This includes My Sleeping Karma of Germany and Glowsun of France among others, who both also have albums coming out soon.

After four years I didn’t even know their second one was coming. As far as I knew they had disappeared along with the likes of Sungrazer. But suddenly on May 5, there it was, out and available on Bandcamp, a surprise that made my week. Given To Emptiness doesn’t disappoint, progressing to a more nuanced, dynamic sound that’s less direct, more impressionistic, but also more effectively takes you on a journey, especially with the lights low and your full attention. That kind of listening is a luxury I don’t get to do every day, and many people only less, so it’s worth pointing out that the music also works great in the background as you work, cook and live. It’s not so mellow as to blend totally into the wallpaper, but the changes are not jarring, and when they build up to a rocking crescendo, you know it’s coming, but just aren’t sure exactly where it’ll take you. It’s kind of a perfect balance, making it one of the most listenable albums of the year so far.

The monster 10:20 opening track “Butes” taps into Greek mythology and their influences have expanded, with touches of folk, doom and Motorpsycho’s brand of psych prog in “Chroma.” “The Pursuer” shows they were paying keen attention to some of gloriously uplifting moments on Colour Haze’s She Said (2012). Like a lot of their European heavy psych peers, these guys have quite the double lives, playing big festivals to tens of thousands of fans, and then returning to their day jobs. Such is the life of a guitar band in a world where, aside from small subcultural pockets, guitars are considered passe, as if an instrument has an expiration date. Tell that to the folks who play drums. Like with a lot of these bands, chances are slim we’ll get to see them in the U.S. anytime soon. I’m saving my pennies for a trip to Europe for sure.

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Roadrunner & Other Drivin’ Tunes

Roadrunner & Other Drivin' Tunes (Front)

An old acquaintance just asked for road trip music recommendations, and I thought I had posted this when I made the mix for a CD mix club I participated in 7-8 years ago. I guess I didn’t, so here it is! Some of the MP3s are included with PDF cover art and liner notes if you click on the first image. Or you can stream it all on Spotify below. Enjoy! Continue reading

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Monolord – Vænir (RidingEasy)

Monolord - Vænir (RidingEasy, 2015)It was only a year ago that Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord released their debut, Empress Rising. Putting out a second album in just a year could be some kind of record in the world of psychedelic doom. When some bands wait close to a decade between albums it’s a rare treat these days for that kind of band to have enough hustle to put out new music so soon, without really repeating themselves. Who knows if and when Sleep will ever do another album, so I’m glad we’ve got Monolord. They’ve got those nasty, heavy guitar tones down, while exploring varying psychedelic sounds to keep the songs diverse and memorable enough. On cuts like the 16:59 title track and the short atmospheric interlude, “The Cosmic Silence” that leads up to it, they’re clearly progressing, if incrementally. My favorite track is probably the forlorn “We Will Burn,” which kind of summarizes their past work and distills it into their best song yet. “Nuclear Death” plods and bludgeons with a weight that reminds me of Conan. Is it important that they tweak their sound? Not necessarily. Some imaginative songwriting and progressive arrangements can keep things interesting for quite a while. To be honest the masked vocals that blend into the scenery could use some improvement. A more ballsy, emotive delivery could help, though at this moment, the album is an excellent snapshot of a band primed for some spinecrushing live shows. It’ll be interesting to see if they keep experimenting with their sound like Electric Wizard and inevitably end up with some failures, or continue to mine these deliciously heavy, fuzzed out tones. Ultimately with Monolord, I feel my listening sessions are most productive when I take a break from analyzing and just surrender to the vibrations.

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Early 2015 Post-Punk Rundown

early-2015-postpunk-rundown

I had a slow start in covering everything I wanted this year, due to being preoccupied with life shit. These post-punk albums didn’t get full reviews, but definitely deserve some attention before we move forward to more anticipated releases this year. Most can be heard on this Spotify playlist. Continue reading

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Ruby The Hatchet – Valley Of The Snake (Tee Pee)

Ruby The Hatchet - Valley Of The Snake (Tee Pee, 2015)I got this from Bandcamp back in February, and has been a heavy presence on my 2015 playlist ever since. The actual CD came in the mail just yesterday and reminded me that I hadn’t properly written about it yet.  I really hate to lead off “female fronted.” Yes, I did write a feature focusing on bands lead by women back in 2012, and I did so simply because they were great bands that mostly were not getting enough attention and respect at the time. Since then, many of the bands have grown in stature and popularity. But I wouldn’t say the selling point should be solely because they’re lead by women. It’s just as stupid as saying, “hey, you’re a dude, I bet you’d like this band cuz they’re lead by a dude.” A lot of the better heavy psych bands lately do feature women, like Purson, Blood Ceremony, Jess & the Ancient Ones, Mansion and The Oath, but gender is not the key factor to their greatness. Ruby The Hatchet’s Jillian Taylor is an accomplished singer, and her abilities have matured since their 2012 debut Ouroboros.  Harmonies provided sometimes from drummer Owen Stewart, other times multi-tracked with herself, bring to mind Fleetwood Mac along the lines with Royal Thunder. However their biggest influence of late sounds like the garage psych of Britain’s Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, to the point where “Vast Acid” might be a direct tribute.  It might be hard to tell from the muddy sound and the hair in their faces, but there are no women in that band. Continue reading

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