Let me tell you, this is not a headline I expected to write in 2019. It’s been almost a decade since what we like to call The Doom Revival™ first started being felt across the metal community, as album after excellent album were released in the genre. As a result, and influenced also by Mastodon‘s 2009 release, Crack the Skye, there was a similar explosion in doom associated genres. Progressive stoner metal basically came to life during those years, as bands like Elder (whose debut released in 2008 but whose fame was garnered by their following albums, released well into the decade) explored the spaces created when you tap into stoner metal’s connection with progressive rock and heavy metal.
Ever since then, progressive stoner metal has decreased; to be sure, excellent releases can be found in any year. In recent memory we’ve had the rise to power of Boss Keloid to appreciate, while lesser known acts like King Goat kept the underground weirdness of the scene alive and kicking. But the genre, and its associated siblings in psychedelic rock and stoner rock, seemed to be lagging, content to linger in the same ground tread by the bands which made the genre so appealing to begin with. Both in aesthetic and in musical terms, the milieu which made up these genres was frozen in time. Album after album released with the same kind of cover art, the same kind of approach to the style and even similar ways to rebel against it, releases proclaiming themselves as different while being different in all the same ways.
And then 2019 started and something happened which I wasn’t quite ready for. I was suddenly accosted by excellent stoner and psychedelic releases of different sub-genres and flavors, all unique and with their own personality. Most of all, the music sounded fresh; even if a band wasn’t doing anything technically new, they were doing it with verve and their own stamp on it. I found myself going back more and more to these releases and reveling in the selection on hand. And then I thought to myself: “why are you keeping all this goodness to yourself? Let the people know” and here we are! What follows is a partial (for the love of god, partial I said. Take note!) exploration of what stoner rock, stoner metal, psychedelic rock and other assorted works are doing in 2019. There are many more out there, I can already tell you, but this is the stuff that’s grabbed hold of my attention. Let’s go!
Irata – Tower
It’s no mistake that I’m starting this list with Irata. Perhaps more so than any other band on this list, Irata have just reached out of the progressive stoner mold and grabbed me by the throat. Tower has it all: it has big solos, huge, groovy riffs, moving heavy metal influences (perhaps more so than any other album on this list), and just an overall sense of cool that makes it all seem effortless. I think the thing that most strikes me about this album is how much energy it has; it should be a more lethargic affair, considering how slow some of the tempos are and some of the more ambient interludes the album contains but the opposite is true. Irata seem to place every note in its place, every vocal line where it belongs, and this kind of economy creates an album that’s over before you know it as it sweeps you away on its fuzzy wings.
Bright Curse – Time of the Healer
This album is about 200% better than it has any right to be. Probably the slowest entry on this album, Bright Curse‘s Time of the Healer channels the tripped out energies of bands like King Buffalo and even hovers close to Earth territory. However, by injecting just enough big riffs and touching guitar lines, alongside some downright mesmerizing work on the vocals, Time of the Healer feels effortless. At times, it’s like falling asleep on a warm Spring day, the grass crunching up under your shoulders and the sun playing on your face. But at other times, off-kilter samples, and some truly, insanely massive guitar solos, create a darker, richer texture. It’s not the molasses of thick, swampy summer such as Earth play or the thunder struck plains of King Buffalo. Rather, it is a sometimes refreshing encounter with melody but at others a more sinister and surprising exploration of more complex themes.
Kaleidobolt – Bitter
In the inherently fruitless discussion of “who invented metal” not too many people say King Crimson or at least not enough. It’s of course silly to say any one band invented an entire genre of music but it’s also obvious that King Crimson had a major hand in birthing metal. Kaleidobolt capture the kind of massive, distorted, frenetic type of psychedelic rock which King Crimson immortalized in those days and brings it kicking and screaming into the present. Bitter is all bang, no dross. From the very first seconds of the album, with one of the band members briefly shouting something in the room before the guitars explode to the last ringing note, you are constantly accosted by blistering riffs, smoked out vocals, and an overall sense of the epic. I’ve honestly been unable to step away from this album for very long the first time I heard it; it’s just so powerful and effective.
Haze Mage – Chronicles
Haze Mage‘s Chronicles is probably the most straight-forward album on this list but that only speaks to its strength since that straight-forwardness takes nothing away from it. With tracks like “Bong Witch” and a name like Haze Mage, what you see is what you get: Haze Mage lay on the riffs thick and nasty while the vocals utilize their size and intensity to bring everything home. This is definitely a stoner metal album for fans of the genre, doing very little to deviate from the genre, but to be honest, that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for. Leave the progressive tendencies to other folks and give Haze Mage big ol’ chords, extremely fun artwork, and a passionate faith to the tenets of stoner metal. Light ’em up!
Motorpsycho – The Crucible
It would have been a crime not to include Motorpsycho in this roundup. This mercurial band has been featured recently on the blog but the more I listen to The Crucible the more I love it. Over their long journey here, Motorpsycho have picked up so many tricks of the trade. The end result is that The Crucible draws as much as it does on psychedelic rock than it does on progressive rock, pouring everything into one heady elixir of wacky transitions, moving guitar parts, and emotive vocals. It’s like the more brightly colored brother to Kaleidobolt which we cover below, drawing on the more trippy and light-filled sides of psychedelic rock as much as it does on the more aggressive parts.
Lower Slaughter – Some Things Take Work
Lower Slaughter‘s Some Things Take Work is perhaps the album which most stands out on its own on this list. It’s certainly firmly grounded in traditional doom and psychedelic music, wearing its Black Sabbath influences high on its sleeve, but it also has elements of noise and kraut rock thrown into it. Especially arresting and unique are the vocals on it, channeling just enough derision into their emotive delivery to keep you on the edge of your seat. The overall result is of a sleek, pissed off, unique, and self-confident band that sound like they have way more than just two albums under their belt. Instead, they exude an irresistible air of verve and attitude lavished underneath a layer of modern sensibility and traditional ass-kickery. That’s a word, shut up.
Druids – Monument
Ending with the band that most resembles Leviathan era Mastodon is some sort of justice but I’m not sure which kind. In any case, there have obviously been many attempts to recreate Mastodon’s Crack the Skye sound but you don’t hear too many bands throwing back to their sound before that. Honestly, it works amazingly for Druids, who we also hosted on the blog earlier this week for an Anatomy Of post. There are many great things on this album but I think “The Whip” captures the vocals the most. Their thick tones and aggression on this track is a perfect testament to what this timbre can do when layered over good riffs and a powerful groove section. The rest of the album is just as powerful, delivering stoner metal goodness with just enough prog goodness added to keep things interested.
Also, holy shit that cover art, yeah?