And so another year has mercifully come to a conclusion. 2014 proved to be a most trying time for your humble author --easily the most difficult one he has had since the maelstrom that was 2002. Setbacks and death were especially prevalent and both came together on one especially horrific date that was naturally littered with numerical significance --both on a personal and metaphysical level.
But by and large nothing good comes from dwelling on the negative turns one's life can take from time to time and it is thus especially fitting that this blog's particular year end wrap-up should concern the one glowing positive of my 2014: blessed music.
As I noted at the onset of the year, I was planning on making an effort into getting back to what has long been one of the great passions of my life: rock 'n roll shows. I will be eternally grateful to Christopher Knowles for his Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll, which helped me to finally understand such endeavors have typically presented me with an experience that at times was borderline mystical. This article and virtually all the pieces on this blog written in the last few years concerning rock 'n roll have been heavily influenced by Mr. Knowles' conception of the modern day rock scene as an unconscious (or in at least one case, conscious) revival of the Ancient Mysteries.
In this context, rock concerts bring some of the awe and terror that the festivals of the Ancient Mysteries as well as the practices of shamans the world over inspire. I'm pleased to say that I followed through on my above stated objective and took in at least ten concerts this year. Things got off to a smashing start when I saw Clutch this past January and tonight I shall once again start off a new year with a Clutch concert, this time featuring the great Torche as support.
But so much about my life. Let us move on to the matter at hand, namely the top stoner rock albums of 2014. As long time readers of this blog are aware, I have something of a fondness for this gerne (which, for the uninitiated, is something of a catch all term for a variety of styles including sludge and doom metal, post-metal, retro heavy and/or occult rock, drone, heavy psych, desert rock, fuzz rock and on and on) in no small part due to its frequently twilight language-laden visual and lyrical bent. While such a gerne would naturally feature a fondness for drugs, especially psychedelics, and has attempted in a multitude of ways to musically recreate the experience, stoner rock has become increasingly fixated upon mythology, Lovercraftian mythos, superheros, archetypes, the occult and the like in recent years as well. Thus, it has become quite fertile ground for both conscious and unconscious explorations of many things arcane and delightfully weird. With this in mind, let us move along to the count down.
Brant Bjork is one of the pioneers of what is now referred to as stoner rock. He got his start as the drummer of desert rock trail blazers Kyuss in the 1990s and helped establish the now semi-legendary Palm Desert scene and its glorious "generator parties" --truly a spontaneous modern day Bacchanalia if ever there was one. From there Brant would go onto drum for the great Fu Manchu during some of their peak years before departing in 2002. More recently he once again stepped back behind the drum kit for Vista Chino --effectively a Kyuss reunion sans Josh Homme. This group has yielded one excellent album thus far that made last year's top 13 list.
Here's your esoterica --dark Americana littered with a conspiratorial world view. Wovenhand is generally described as either an alternative country, neo-folk or post-punk outfit, though in recent years they've taken on a more metallic edge that has drawn the attention of a certain type of metalhead. I'm not familiar with this group's work prior to this outing, so I don't have a point of reference to fall back on but this album could best be described as 80s Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with more fuzzed out guitars. And there's nothing wrong with that folks.
It probably goes without saying, the spirit of the ongoing American apocalypse is certainly captured within this recording.
Cosmic doom titans Yob return with their seventh study album, the follow up to 2011's Atma and also their first outing since singer/guitarist/founder Mike Scheidt's 2012 solo outing Stay Awake. Yob have long been one of the most metaphysically inclined bands linked to the stoner rock community, having practically pioneered the whole concept of "cosmic doom" in the first place. Their songs are frequently epic-length, routinely gong over the ten minute mark and rarely finishing up in under six. A typical Yob album only possess four or five tracks but usually lasts for around an hour.
Of all the albums listed here I find this one the hardest to rank. I've probably listened to it much more than many of the albums that will follow but as the title implies, this record is little more than a reworking of tracks from last year's The Last Patrol from these stoner rock pioneers. Patrol, which came in at number two in last year's list, was easily the strongest album Monster Magnet had produced since their 90s space rock heyday and its easy to see why frontman Dave Wyndorf was tempted to get as much mileage out of these songs as he possibly could.
This album marks the second outing for the Welsh four piece. Within the stoner rock community this band gained some buzz when it first formed back in 2009 due in no small part to the fact that the original four members had been fourths/fifths of the legendary Acrimony, whose 1997's Tumuli Shroomaroom is considered a classic, though your humble reviewer has yet to partake of it. My understanding is that Sigiriya, whose name derive from one of the holiest spots in Sri Lanka, is much more rocking than the oh-so-tripped-out Acrimony. Certainly the sound present on Darkness Died to Day is more in line with some of the poppier sludge metal that has come out of the Georgia scene in recent years while new vocalist Matt Williams (who was not a part of Acrimony) and his style echo early 1990s grunge, most notably Soundgarden. But don't let the latter scare you off.
This Swedish outfit is a retro folk/worldbeat/heavy psych type outfit with a highly ritualistic live show featuring striking masks. So they naturally belong somewhere on here. Really, I would almost have to include them for their alleged back story alone. The Quietus reports:
"As back stories go, it's an absolute corker. Goat are a mysterious band from the tiny village of Korpilombolo in northern Sweden. According to legend, Korpilombolo has a long history of voodoo worship, after a travelling witch doctor settled there several centuries ago. When Christian crusaders invaded and destroyed the village, the surviving townsfolk placed a curse on Korpilombolo as they fled. It's said that the effect of the curse is still felt today, and informs the highly rhythmic and trance-like music played by generations of villagers, which, in turn, has shaped Goat's extraordinary debut album, World Music."
Opener "Talk to God" sets the tone with its driving afrobeat and acoustic guitars paired with spiritual musings delivered in an almost-chant like faction by a female vocalist (I wish I could be a bit more specific, but names of the band members are a bit hard to come by). Unfortunately I can not make out the lyrics well enough to discern whether the group is in fact serious or very dedicated pranksters, but can you go wrong with how the moody instrumental "To Travel the Path Unknown" (which opens with a spoken word bit musing on "the positive force of the constant creation of evolution" and such like) bleeds into the wah-soaked acid rock guitars of "Goatchild"; or the samples of Floyd Red Crow Westerman (whom X-Files fans are well acquainted with) that introduce the glorious "Goatslaves"? Certainly this album is a trip into something.
The Dwellers have their origins in heavy space rock mavens Iota, who's 2008 Tales has become something of a cult classic within the community. That grouped petered out toward the end of the last decade, spurring singer/guitarist Joey Toscano to focus on this power trio, fleshed out by two former members of the occult doom band Subrosa as the rhythm section. But while Iota was both heavier and more grandiose (with more than a few of their songs going over ten minutes), the Dwellers approach to heavy psych has been a bit more classical in terms of both influences and song structures. While they certainly have their jammier moments, the Dwellers use early acid rock trios such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience and especially Cream as a template to build upon.
If nothing else, this album would certainly be high in the rankings for the best cover art of the year. Fortunately, Wo Fat's fifth studio album more than delivers. Hailing from Texas, Wo Fat is another power trio that fuses elements of the old and new. While ZZ Top, Captain Beyond and Hendrix all weigh heavy on their sound, Wo Fat brings shades of the fuzzed out riffs of desert rock staples such as Kyuss and Fu Manchu as well as the oh-so druggy doom of Sleep. Throw in a frequently swampy atmosphere and you have a group that is both infinitely familiar, but also with their own peculiar niche.
Hailing from Toronto, Canada, this four piece is headed by an individual known as Nick Sewell. Sewell is both the son of former Toronto major John Sewell and the former frontman for a band called the Illuminati. And now he returns with a group called Biblical, the name of which apparently being taken from a line uttered by Bill Murray in the first Ghostbusters movie (which, if "Simon" is to believed, was partly inspired by his discovery of the Necronomicon). Surely these things alone are enough to spur David McGowan and/or Jan Irving to link Sewell to the behavior modification programs of the CIA.
The sophomore outing for this French heavy psych trio. While the group's 2011 self-titled debut certainly showed promise, it is with this album that they have come into their own. Originally the trio had planned on recording it in Southern California so as to soak up the atmosphere of desert rock's birth place after playing a week of shows in South America. But due to issues with the group's visas they were denied entrance into these United States and ended up recording this album in Rio de Janeiro. Hence the title.
The debut for this Swedish trio. Fellow cosmic doomers Yob and Sleep were surely heavy influences on this group. But Monolords immediately establish their own character, one that is not quite as heavy as Yob and certainly more serious than Sleep. While I've found no indications whatever that this group has a serious interest in the occult this album is as fine an ode to Hekate or any of the other archetypal death goddesses as one is likely to encounter. This album is akin to a nightmare trip of the apocalypse as overseen by some primordial crone.
Things get off to a striking beginning with the open title track, which builds from some druggy guitar runs into a truly pummeling groove. "Harbinger of Death" works another crushing groove while "Icon" even incorporates some tribal flairs. On the whole the album is heavy as a brick yet maintains an ethereal air throughout. Likely will appeal to fans of psychedelia and doom in equal measures.
And so concludes a list which I hope will give the naysayers who insist that there's no good music being made anymore pause. As a bonus, here are a few honorable mentions:
Riding Easy's showing is even more impressive, however. They issued the albums by Monolords and The Well which came in at three and one in the top 13 respectively. The also released the debut by Salem's Pot, which got an honorable mention. The debut album by Electric Citizen, Sateen, was also compelling and probably would have made the cut had I not only just got around to listening to it a few days days ago. I've also heard wonderful things about Hornss' No Blood No Sympathy, another debut album issued this year by Riding Easy, but I've yet to pick that one. On the whole the label is quickly establishing a niche for itself with these glorious and at times sleazy doom and psychedelia records. Hopefully this is only the beginning.
While we're on the subject out shout outs I would also like to give a big thank you to the Obelisk and Fast 'n' Bulbous for their tireless effort to chronicle the heavy underground. If you've enjoyed this list then one is strongly advised to check out the year end lists posted by those two blogs, which can be found here and here.
And with that I shall wrap things up for now. Until next time dear readers and the best to all of you in this new year and increasingly unstable world.