The end is nigh, Heaviest of All Bloggers. We’ve somehow survived to the end of this horrible full-of-bullshit year. All we had to do was let time continue to pass, which sounds like it should be easy. You don’t actually have to DO anything for time to tick by, but it still seemed so damn exhausting. It was wave after wave of insufferable awfulness that left some worried that the stroke of midnight on December 31st will actually have clocks saying 11:60 instead of turning over into 2021, including Yours Truly. I sincerely hope that we’ve put this horrible year behind us by the time you’re reading this, and I hope you were all able to end the year as joyfully as possible in an altered version of the holiday season.
You may notice that this isn’t technically an end of the year post. Don’t worry, that’s coming soon! With our new format and release schedule, we figured a slightly different version of our monthly wrap up was in order. We had two thoughts in mind. First, December releases frequently get overlooked in the rush to the end of the year and trying to publish a best of post. At the same time, there are a lot of releases that we miss throughout the year that are worth highlighting but didn’t get added to a wrap up column. So with that in mind, we figured we could do a nice hybrid this year and talk about both! We’ll get back with you soon for our best of list, but enjoy the end of this miserable year for now!
Bantha Rider – Binary Sunset Massacre
Oh yes, we are including a band of Star Wars references. It’s our column, and we do as we please here! So let me introduce you to Warsaw’s Bantha Rider, an instrumental stoner metal trio making some of the most high energy tunes I’ve heard all year. I’m really glad Binary Sunset Massacre came out in December when my brain was ready for it. This is really how I wanted the year to go out: with high energy stoner tunes so I can flip the bird to this stupid ass year.
Before putting on Binary Sunset Massacre, I would’ve thought that an instrumental stoner doom band would be super boring. Yeah, there could be a fun riff in there, of course, but how many times can you hear the same riff before it’s repetitive? I may not have a complete answer to my thought, but Bantha Rider do so much more than just repeating riffs. They’re able to string together brilliant examples of how much fun this side of life can be. Big, aggressive fuzz riffs combine beautifully with long stretches of heavy psychedelia to conjure images of that galaxy far, far away.
In that way, it’s one of the most interesting records I’ve listened to this year. Stoner metal isn’t touted for its ability to be more than the sum of its parts. In fact, it’s usually sneered at for being a sometimes simplistic sound. That is most assuredly not the case with Binary Sunset Massacre. It could be the exception that proves the rule with its decidedly different take on the sound. If bands like Bantha Rider could steer the subgenre in this direction, the days of stoner metal stereotypes could be far behind us.
Green Druid – At the Maw of Ruin
I think any other writer on Heavy Blog would agree with the idea that we end up seeing a lot of truly unique musicians and acts. Some bands are trying to simply recreate the musical sounds they love, which is always fun and welcome. But others are trying to take the things they love and turn them into something truly new and unique. Green Druid strikes me as more the latter. Their take on stoner and doom ideas in metal is wholly unique in the underground scene and another shining example of Denver metal bringing it to all y’all fools out there.
There aren’t a lot of bands out there making angry sounding stoner doom, but boy does Green Druid do it. At the Maw of Ruin expands on their already tremendous songwriting abilities by adding in new influences and ideas to give their tracks some as yet unseen punch. Aggressive is really the only way to describe it. All of their riffs have a delivery that adds new dimensions to their music. These riffs combine well with the band’s noted psych doom moments of drone. Well-crafted progressive songwriting helps keep them glued together and makes each track more of a sensory experience than songs.
Compounding this new approach is a significant production quality improvement. There is a clarity to the music the band recorded on At the Maw of Ruin that the band didn’t have before. I try not to hold lower production values against bands as it could be on purpose or just wasn’t in the budget, but it nevertheless impacts the enjoyment of a record. The band’s previous record, Ashen Blood, had those qualities. Everything sounds a little choked or muddy in comparison to the new record. At the Maw of Ruin greatly benefits as a result. Ashen Blood was a great record, but At the Maw of Ruin blows it out of the water.
Sorry We Missed Them Rapid Fire
Vagina Witchcraft – Vagina Witchcraft
For as often as I hear about all the “raw” black metal, it seems like this descriptor doesn’t find its way over to other genres as much as it should. So, I’d like to propose this as a “raw sludge” record. This shit is as nasty as it gets in terms of production, but the attitude really sends it home. If I’m being perfectly honest, this is a wholly punk-first record, but the bluesy, doomy hallmarks found in the guitars make Vagina Witchcraft’s take hit differently, like a missing link from the genres’ origins. This is largely a result of the incredible performance of vocalist/poet Kayla Fernandes. They exude a rage only comparable to Couch Slut’s Megan O.’s embroiling shrieks, delivering lines like “Fear me / I am the fucking devil” and “Set me on fire / so I can burn myself into your memory” with a spine-chilling authenticity as the instrumentation bobs from laser-focused 80s hardcore to gritty, lo-fi sludge and everywhere in between. If most sludge isn’t pissed off or political enough for you, Vagina Witchcraft have the answer.
Spell – Opulent Decay
The combination of gothic sounds, modern songwriting, and traditional metal techniques beautifully meshed together. That’s the only way to describe both Spell and their latest record, Opulent Decay. And, DAMN, if it’s not one of the best records we neglected to mention on Doomsday this year. I’m pretty sure Jordan showed this one to me, which would continue the streak of me getting introduced to an awesome band RIGHT after publishing that month’s Doomsday. I listened to Opulent Decay throughout the year and always revelled in the experience. I think y’all will do the same.
Sycomore – Bloodstone
With a thick and raging blend that sometimes feels like Doomriders’ sludgecore, Sycomore set their eyes on fusing noise, sludge, and hardcore with fat riffs, backbreaking grooves, kick drum flurries, and whiplashing changes in direction that might have you thinking the clock got turned back a decade. Punchy tracks like “Over my shoulders,” “Power of romance,” and “Fifty-fifty” harken back to the likes of Candiria, Yakuza, and Helmet, while others like “Knight Coat,” “The Enemy,” and “The Web” feel like hanging with your old smoking buddies when you were binging Neurosis records.
Dopelord – The Sign of the Devil
Poland’s Dopelord is the most consistent band to me. You always know what you’re getting out of a new Dopelord track, but it’s always great to hear them. They are consistently fun to listen to, and why fix what ain’t broke? Sign of the Devil is another great stoner doom record for them and possibly their best yet. Regular Doomsday readers are probably already well aware of the band, but reminders that Dopelord exists are always worth it.
Konvent – Puritan Masochism
I think this is a case of an early-in-the-year album getting forgotten, but Puritan Masochism is a righteous fucking deathdoom record, and it shouldn’t go without one more nod. Konvent’s variety has some almost folky tinges that add a creepy filagree to these dismal and brutal hymns. I wouldn’t typically call something with this much punch and attack “atmospheric,” but the production and instrumentation set a wonderfully dreary stage for Rikke Emilie List`s zombified gutterals, creating a curiously engrossing rather than visceral deathdoom experience. It’s intimidatingly dark and punishingly heavy, but the overarching mood will make you want to wallow in it.
Aktor – Placebo
Synth-trad is a thing now thanks to Finnish trio Aktor. Their anthemic singalongs draw a line between quirky, checkerboard 80s punk and classic heavy metal, skewing slightly in favor of the electro soundscapes of the former. Those who tout the merits of Judas Priest’s Turbo will find much to love in Aktor’s synth-driven approach, especially as the erratic and sometimes zany spirit of the earlier tracks eases up for more familiar metallic gallops as in tracks like “Astronaut” and “Clean Machine.” Opener “Bad Mirror” is your best point of entry on Placebo, but be sure to stick around for rocker “Seeing Rocks in the Sky” for a nice change of pace. Placebo may be fairly singular in approach, but it’s nothing if not a novel listen. If these guys can broaden their neon horizons, their next release might just usher in a “new wave” of 80s crossover.
Hammada – Atmos
While we’re synthing, let’s not forget about German fuzz rockers Hammada. What I love about Atmos is how easy it is to settle into their realm of chilled-out heavy psych, but the way the uproars of volume and crunch bubble up from time to time are the flavor crystals in this metaphorical Cinnaburst stick of desert rock. These dudes got the bounce, the jam, and the license to make good on some immense soundscapes. It’s no frills, no gimmicks, just a really damn solid stoner rock album. “Nox” and “Azimut” are surefire hits with those who need a peppier, catchier angle, but tracks like “Helios” and “Domizil” are stellar longform pieces that’ll suit those suffering from couchlock.
Lady Beast – The Vulture’s Amulet
Lady Beast are, as the words have escaped the mouths of infinity headbangers, “fucking metal.” Though Eternal Champion are (deservedly) getting the lion’s share of praise for their Manilla Road-on-steroids brand of trad metal, Lady Beast’s NWOBHM-laden old-school take shouldn’t go without similar acclaim. The Pittsburgh quintet has a similar affinity for melding unforgettable melodies with asskicking riffage (vocalist Deborah Levine sometimes sounding like a heavy metal Chrissie Hynde, just so fucking cool), but they up the ante with heaps of adrenaline junkie speed and an attitude better suited for punk rather than D&D. An absolute must-listen.
Bull Elephant – Created From Death
Which one of you found a magic lamp and wished for some big weird alternate WWII history doom/sludge with blackened turns? That’s gotta be the only way to explain how Bull Elephant came into existence and dropped the second of their three-part series. Created from Death’s concept is unique (definitely read the Bandcamp description before diving in), and the music fits the absurdity of the concept. There’s epic solos, dirty rock’n’roll, progressive and dynamic structures, an assortment of incredible vocal approaches and voracious wails, and much, much, much more to be discovered, oddly akin to Slugdge’s satisfying delivery of strange concepts with a broad sonic palette. It’s just one of those albums that’s so fucking out there you can’t help but find a new curiosity in each subsequent listen.
Black Helium – The Wholly Other
Black Helium play some of the scuzziest, noisiest psych doom on the planet. If you can’t get it dirty enough (you sicko), The Wholly Other is one you shouldn’t pass up. There’s freak-out builds, undulating grooves, lazy river atmospheres, an untamed garage rock energy, and most importantly, more fuzz than a wooly bear farm. I dig the retro vibes on this one quite a bit, it’s got a distinctive vintage air to it, but it’s structurally more interesting than what you’d pull off your uncle Beardo’s shelf. It’s a counterbalanced affair, where tracks like “Death Station of the Goddess,” “One Way Trip,” and “Teetering on the Edge” are sure footed in the kaleidoscopic realm of psych rock, while “Hippie on a Slab,” “Two Masters,” and “Pink Bolt” bring the fucking noise. Turn up, drown out.
Hellish Form – MMXX
Featuring members of Body Void and Keeper, you should know Hellish Form is going to be capital Fucking Heavy. Drone usually wears on me pretty quick, but I found MMXX’s seismic amp worship to be both meditative and engaging. The depressed tempo of “Gazing Upon A Forgotten Shadow (Descent)” steadily plods along as Willow Ryan’s wraithlike vocals claw through the fog of fuzz, at times sitting beneath the surface and narrowly missing, and at others connecting fully and violently. “House With A Thousand Doors” is a much more expeditious piece, precipitously smothering listeners under an inescapable, bleak weight. In short, MMXX is a most appropriately titled record.
The Atomic Bitchwax – Scorpio
Those in the know understand that The Atomic Bitchwax have been delivering killer hard-charging stoner rock for decades. But this? This one might be their best yet. It’s loaded with the usual snappy hooks, hyperactive stoner riffs, and shred by the truckload, but TAB go even leaner and meaner with Scorpio. Tight instrumental jams like “Ninja, “Crash,” and “Instant Death” make the case for shortform as opposed to the typical heady sprawl, while touches like the vocal/guitar call and response of “Energy” and the impossibly catchy choruses of the hilarious “Hope You Die,” clap-along “You Got It,” and the aerodynamic title track will get you scratching for another fix. My biggest gripe? The atrocious album artwork (more fitting for a goddamn POG) is inversely proportional to the quality of the tunes found within.
REZN – Chaotic Divine
REZN’s latest is an absolute whopper in every sense, and at just shy over an hour long, it’ll hold you over for quite some time. I’ll admit, I felt Chaotic Divine was a little much on my first few spins, especially when compared to 2018’s Calm Black Water, but more recently I’ve been getting absorbed in their even more gorgeous ripples of psych with help of the interesting adjuncts they’ve tossed in on this effort: breezes of mood-setting sax, immersive environments that span desert and vintage psych, and even some spacey synths. The chest-collapsing sludge/doom riffs are certainly in-tact, but the album is considerably less riff-dense as a whole. This is one you can sink your teeth into, especially if you’re a glutton for a smorgasbord of stoner sludge.