Hey friends, is it my imagination or are we being deluged with amazing albums? Is this little underground bunker of heavy music quietly reaching a critical mass and threatening to force its way above the surface? I doubt it, but it’s getting harder to ignore what’s happening in these musical morlock tunnels. This is the first time that I can truly say with 100% honesty that the top 26-50 albums on our list would have made a killer chart all on its own. If you’re interested we can publish that list for the curious on our facebook page, just leave some comments somewhere.
Speaking of which, our “Most Anticipated Albums of 2016, 1st Quarter” list seemed to be a hit so I’ll go ahead with publishing one every quarter. The next one might not be as sprawling because fewer albums seem to come out during the middle of the year, but it’ll be up there for you to use, probably on April 22. And keep checking the 1st qtr list because it gets updated almost daily as new info comes in.
Now let’s get on with the show …
~ LK Ultra
25. PRISTINE – Reboot
Hey you, yeah, you reading this now. You look like the kinda person who likes up-tempo tunes performed by a modern beat-combo. Are you wandering around sad and desperate because there is no new album from Electric Citizen or The Blues Pills? Do ya dig heavy blues with a Stoner attitude? Sung by a female fury full of passion and brimstone? Do you like screaming guitar solos? Pounding rhythm sections? Tasteful use of a mouth organ? Swirly Hammond organ breaks? Do ya like to bang your head in time to stomping tunes? Howzabout psychedelic sections? Epic soulful songs that start wistful and end heavy? Whattabout kicking melodies combined with power? If you have answered yes to all of the above, you need to hear the Pristine album. If you answered yes to a lot of the above, you need to hear the Pristine album. If you hate all the above and only listen to downtuned, bleak doom filth sludge drone metal, you need to hear the Pristine album……… go on, I won’t tell anyone! ~ Tony Maim (Black Insect Laughter, Stoner HiVe)
24. GHOST WITCH – Demo
Every now and then an unsigned band will capture lightning in a bottle with an EP available as a “Name Your Price” download, or as I like to call it, “freeloadin”. Ghost Witch is the latest such band because they truly capture the spirit of both halves of their name and do it in a totally rewarding and accessible way. Only two songs here and they’re both excellent stoner doom. And yeah, the first tracks sounds a lot like Windhand, but you can never get too much of a good sound, and I’m sure everybody who heard Ghost Witch like them. I’m excited to hear how this band evolves. For those of us lucky enough to catch them this early can say, “I knew them when …” ~ Lucas Klaukien – ‘LK Ultra’ (Paranoid Hitsophrenic)
23. LOW FLYING HAWKS – Kōfuku
22. THE HYLE – ep
Bands like Snail, Windhand, Weedpecker, Holy Serpent and now The Hyle are leading the new splinter genre of thunderous, fuzzy riffs with clean vocals, taking major influences from shoegaze rather than the omnipotently boring Sabbath and creating something interesting and different if not entirely new.
Hailing from Copenhagen The Hyle released a brilliant four track demo on cassette in 2014 and seemingly disappeared into the aether. Surfacing again in 2016 with this two track EP that was recorded “80% live” back in May of 2015 by Emil Sauer at Sorthus and Aurochs Studio The Hyle have once again knocked it out of the park.
You can hear influences of another 90’s fave, grunge, in the structure and chord progressions. Singing about the usual stoner fodder (Vaitaranee Nadee is the hindu equivalent of the river Styx) philosophy and occultism in reverb drenched vocals that weave throughout the crushing riffs and creates an atmosphere of melancholy and despair ~ Cam Crichton (Motherslug)
21. NONSUN – Black Snow Desert
Over the course of the past few years Nonsun have distinguished themselves as one of the better drone doom acts on the market. The Ukrainian duo’s first album, ‘Black Snow Desert’ isn’t just a full-length, it’s a double-LP offering of insectoid textures on post-apocalyptic landscapes. Cinematic in scope and execution, ‘Black Snow Desert’ is a bleak trip under a dim, smoke-obscured sun through crumbling ruins and rubble-strewn paths. As I slooshied through this album, I knew such lovely pictures! ~ Lucas Klaukien – ‘LK Ultra’ (Paranoid Hitsophrenic)
20. BARONESS – Purple Album
One of my favorite comedians, Louis CK, has a bit about how we Americas overuse power-filled words until they lose most of their meaning. “Amazing” is one of his examples – if you say, “it was amazing!” were you actually amazed? Really? Doubtful.
Pertaining to Baroness, I was going to use the word “infectious,” but does it have any real power left? The first time an album reviewer explained a song he couldn’t get out of his head by using a term meant for describing diseases, he probably had a self-congratulatory intellectual orgasm of no small scope.
But that was long, long ago, I’m sure, and my calling the new Baroness album “infectious” today would be like your grandmother calling her new Facebook account “really cool!” No, grandma, it’s not cool at all.
So forget infectious. The point is, Baroness fans, like Mastodon fans and Kyuss/Queens of The Stone Age fans, fall essentially into two camps: those who dig the evolution of a band who once couldn’t stay far enough away from accessibility into one that’s embraced writing hooky, approachable songs, and those who don’t. (I guess there are three camps, if you include the folks who never heard of Baroness or Mastodon until Rolling Stone was endorsing them. I’m not including them.)
Well, I’m in the former camp, and I have numerous friends I take flak from for it. I never loved the noodly, fuzz-progginess of the older Baroness stuff, nor its lost-in-a-cavern vocal approach that sounded almost like an afterthought because, hey, who in the heavy rock underground cares about singing anyway?
But they evolved.
Dune. Flash Gordon. Krull. Battlestar Gallactica.
The new Baroness is packed full of songs that would work as soaring battle-anthems in any of those (and yes, I need more current reference points).
Galloping tempos, skyward-swelling melodies, sweeping, singable choruses over washes of fist-thrusting crescendos… wow. Refrains that weld themselves to your hippocampus somehow co-exist with instrumental passages chopsy enough for the most boundary-pushing instrumentalists. It’s a welcome evolution from where they started.
Who can turn a climactic sludge-rock ascension into a pop song? Baroness. Name a band who transitions in a few short years from stoner-prog titans into Pitchfork’s hipster-metal darlings? Baroness. And what group is prescient enough to self-release their best and most ambitious album to date on their own new label at the exact right moment in their career? You know the answer.
Some would say that Purple delivers on everything their previous work hinted at, but frankly, I never guessed that Baroness had this in them. Well done, guys. Somewhere, Josh Homme and Brann Dailor are smiling ~ MeteorJadd (The Ripple Effect)
19. KIND – Rocket Science
Much has already been said about KIND, with their debut album riding high in many ‘best of 2015’ lists despite being released fairly late in the year. And the accolades are deserved. The combined talent and experience in this band is staggering and the sum total is just a damn good album from start to finish rather than something that will blow your mind. Consistent goodness of riff, dark psychedelia and iconic reverb soaked Roadsaw vocals, KIND would be a superb band to experience in a live setting ~ Clint (Hand of Doom Radio)
18. HEXENJÄGER – Black Titan
An explosive return from French quartet Hexenjager, who less than a year after their notable demo, are back on track with “Black Titan”, an album rich with overwhelming and unexpected hints, especially for fans of the band’s earlier demo! An inebriating dose of 4 charismatic tracks between obscure and twisted atmospheres alternated with caustic heavy-metal rides. Compared with the previous work they prove their composing intensity, showing a really solid improvement. “Black Titan” is a fascinating trip, libertine and demoniacal, among acid visions and overloaded riffs! Pleasure assured! ~ Mari Knox Knox (Doommabbestia)
17. VALTIEL – The Druid EP
VALTIEL hail from Anchorage, Alaska and is never to be confused with the dark ambient rap project from Arizona Bay that coincidentally shares the name. Three things you’ll notice immediately. First, the riffs are confident and pleasingly downtuned, giving you the aural equivalent of that first big “ahhhhh” of your favorite drug or beverage of choice. Second, the vocals are raspy and full of rage, but still full-bodied – not far removed from what we might expect from Gurt, Buzzov*en, or Dopethrone. We have Connor Tetlow to thank on both counts, as the band’s vocalist/guitarist. Love your work, dude. Absolutely on point. Third, the bass and drum combo is tight, clean, and does it’s job of keeping the songs on ‘Druid’ (released January 8th) moving along swiftly. This is sludge-doom, after all, not a funeral march. That’s Adam Kimball on drums and Murat Demir manning the bass (he’s got some awesome moments of his own to shine throughout the record). If you tend to shy away from unfamiliar names and new projects, Valtiel will surely convince you that metal is a musical genre with a vast canvas and these guys have given us three very colorful tracks, indeed ~ Billy Goate (Doomed & Stoned)
16. LA CHINGA – Freewheelin’
Vancouver’s premier sleaze rock trio are at it again … actually, that’s a terrible start … La Chinga have pushed things to all new lows on their Small Stone Records debut. The name of the game here is capital A, Anthems. “Keep it Wizard”, “Right On”, “White Witchy Black Magic” aren’t just statements, they are the not so humble beginnings of a new draft of the rock & roll constitution. To rockers, ‘Freewheelin’ is the living embodiment of “they’re saying what we’re all thinking”. Pre-orders are up on bandcamp (see link) and the album ships late March ~ Lucas Klaukien – ‘LK Ultra’ (Paranoid Hitsophrenic)
15. MOON CURSE – Spirit Remains
Thunderous doom with loose organic guitar played with feel, hard hitting yet melodic doom, dripping with stellar tone. Tone for days…. “Spirit Remains” is the 2nd album from Moon Curse, a three year wait between albums and here’s hoping it’s not as long next time around. This album truly meets the ‘all killer no filler’ label – approximately 43 minutes of outright riff satisfaction, storming drums and cool vocals, all tinged with a natural vintage vibe. Their debut self titled album turned heads and this should spin those heads another full 360 degrees and garner the band a slew of new fans via the tendrils of the internet riff hunters. The killer album art by Matthew Presutti deserves a mention here too, very cool indeed. Check out the merch tab on their bandcamp page too – Were you one of the lucky 22 that scored the ‘Spirit Remains’ Dybbuk Boxes? ~ Clint (Hand of Doom Radio)
14. WITCHES OF GOD – They Came To Kill
I remember … when Witches of God’s first album came out in 2013 my online buddy and fellow hoser Jeff Warren considered this band the future of underground heavy. Combining punk fire with stoner postures it stroked against the grain of popular trends at the time. I remember how disappointed he was that none of the blogs aside from his own (much missed!) Broken Beard made a bold statement by declaring it the album of that year. In fact I think it’s one of the reasons he withdrew from reviewing: in his eyes, he was seeing the collective underground voice failing to exert its influence and subtly demand new noise by pointing in that direction. On this, their second album Witches of God solidify their own identity, crafting something totally unique on the landscape today. Full marks to this band. It turns out Jeff Warren is a genius prophet. Check out L.A.’s reigning sleaze champs at the link below today or be square ~ Lucas Klaukien – ‘LK Ultra’ (Paranoid Hitsophrenic)
13. DUNBARROW – Dunbarrow
Dunbarrow are an early sounding doom hard rock band in the vein of early Pentagram. The comparison cannot be missed. But they are not clones. Touches of witchcraft permeate throughout. Great songs, lyrics and vocals, this has the whole package for the seventies aficionado. You can call it protodoom or protometal, yes this is the sound of yesterday but more important it is also the sound of today and tomorrow ~ Paul Rote (Doomed & Stoned)
12. ISAAK – Sermonize
ISAAK’s new album Sermonize sees the band try their hand at different styles of music. Prog, Sludge, Stoner, Doom, and Psych are just some of the great moments that await you on the album. Sermonzie moves in so many different directions that most of the songs sound very different to each other. Parts Baroness, Mastodon and Kyuss style melodies but with ISAAK still creating their own style of great music.
The one thing that stands out on the album is ISAAK’s songwriting ability. They’ve written some great lyrics to match the fantastic riffs on show. Almonds & Glasses being a particular favourite song of mine as it combines top-notch psych Sludge/Stoner grooves with expertly sung vocals. The song has kind of a “pop” style sensibility, the kind of vibe that Torche are known for.
The album really comes to life on the final three songs – The Frown Reloaded, The Phil’s Theorem and Sermonzie as ISAAK show you what they’re truly made of. Sludge/Stoner Rock where they impress with a ton of sublime guitar solos. The band shows their tender side on Sermonize which is probably their “Lighter/Mobile In The Air” song where people can lose themselves in the moment.
ISAAK have really delivered the goods on this album. It may have taken me time to admire this album but I’ve been playing it non-stop for the past two months or so. That’s how good Sermonize is… ~ Steve Howe (Outlaws Of The Sun)
11. MAMMOTHWING – Morning Light
Just when you thought you’d heard it all and the riffs couldn’t possibly get any better, a little band from Nottingham called MAMMOTH WING comes along and brings you ‘Morning Light’ (2015 – Kozmik Artifactz/Bilocation Records). What a release! The very first song, “Cosmic Vagabond,” sold me with it’s soulful, Harvey Milk-style emotion and sludgy, bluesy doom licks a la Weedeater. Holy Goat, you NEED this LP in your life! Enjoying the hell out of this right now… ~ Billy Goate (Doomed & Stoned)
10. SONIC MASS – You People Never Learn
This band sounds like pure evil.
Sonic Mass has been one of my favorite unsigned bands since I first discovered bandcamp waaaaaay back in the heady days of 2012. And that’s the bizarre tragedy. Their particularly evil fuzzy doom is so individualistic and evokes such a specific mood that it’s hard to think of a place where they might actually fit in. They never fail and yet they never pander. Add to that their seeming Chuck Berry-esque ethic that all works by the band are incomplete pieces of a larger canon of work (they re-work older songs regularly) and you’ve got one of the most satisfying bands in the heavy underground today ~ Lucas Klaukien – ‘LK Ultra’ (Paranoid Hitsophrenic)
9. INFINITE FLUX – Infinite Flux
Infinite Flux has released an S/T of seven, riff infused, doom/stoner tracks. Although the tracks on offer here, flow seamlessly from one to the other, each one has something different lurking under the surface whether it be crunching doom,or a stoner like groove. The glue which holds all of this together, is the superb mixing and mastering of T.Dallas Reed at Heavy Head studios which has given this album a slickness that enhances rather than compromises the intensity of Infinite Flux, and has brought the sound to another level, giving a cavernous, yet controlled tone to the guitars. Like most of my contemporaries, I listen to so much music that a lot is easily forgotten, but this album by Infinite Flux is a real stand out and it’s essential you check it out ~ Steve Woodier (The Shrieks From Below)
8. SERPENT – Nekromant
There is a freshness and urgency to Serpent that makes this album sound like a classic already. Proto-metal riffs jostle with Stoner Blues headbanging tunes which have been dipped in the potent brew that is early Sabbath. There is no dicking around here – with a plug in, turn up and play attitude, the sound is heavy, dense but with an uplifting feeling of fist-pumping joy. The unstoppable groove monster these Swedes are playing just make me realise that sometimes all I want to do is hear some heavy rock played with power and epic tunes. With the growing success of Graveyard and Kadavar slowly spreading, it would be an injustice if this album does not get the recognition it deserves ~ Tony Maim (Black Insect Laughter, Stoner HiVe)
7. GREENLEAF – Rise Above the Meadow
I showed up to the Greenleaf party when ‘Nest of Vipers’ had just been released and it was a stunning beauty. Their last album left me cold for whatever reason, I don’t know, maybe it was the mood I was in when it came out. ‘Rise Above the Meadow’ isn’t just a return to form, it’s a trailblazer that sees the super-Swedes embrace their Dozer roots, crank up the fuzz, turn the screws on the hooks and carpetbomb stereos with balls out heavy rock. This one’s a goer ~ Lucas Klaukien – ‘LK Ultra’ (Paranoid Hitsophrenic)
6. SLABDRAGGER – Rise of the Dawncrusher
UK Sludge/Stoner Metallers – Slabdragger – may have released only one album “Regress” back in 2011 but it has given the band an almost legendary status within the UK Sludge/Stoner Metal scene. People have been waiting for their new album for a long time now. And that time is finally upon us for Slabdragger to release their new opus. People expecting the same sort of album as Regress maybe disappointed as Slabdragger have created something heavier and more brutal than their debut album.
It’s a great job that – Rise Of The Dawncrusher – has a huge sounding name as it’s a huge sounding album. This album simply crushes everything around it and that includes Conan’s amazing new album. Slabdragger have created perhaps one of the loudest Sludge/Doom Metal albums you’ll hear this year. The band include slabs of prog metal, sludge, doom, psych and even Stoner Rock. The vocals are mostly harsher and depressing growls though some clean vocals do appear. The songs range from 12 mins to 17 mins in length.
From the opening riffs of Mercenary Blues – you’re dragged in kicking and screaming into Slabdragger’s world. And for the next hour or so, the band will take you on a wild addictive nightmarish ride into the dark vortex of Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metal with moments of Spaced Out Rock holding everything together.
There’s no point in describing how different songs sound like as this is an album you need to listen in full without any interruptions. Slabdragger have created perhaps the album of the year for me. Yeah, I know it’s too early to tell but I’m sticking to my guns and saying this album will be in my Top 3 albums of 2016 if not No 1. Rise Of The Dawncrusher is a classic album in every sense of the word ~ Steve Howe (Outlaws Of The Sun)
5. BRIMSTONE COVEN – Back Magic
Some of us demand Sabbath-style doom and can’t get enough of it. Haters be damned. Thing is, Wheeling, West Virginia quartet Brimstone Coven brings us that and so much more. Here we have a great record, with epic doom contrasted with moments of sublime occult rock. It’s a well-balanced album and I think I’m enjoying it even more than their first offering on Metal Blade Records ~ Billy Goate (Doomed & Stoned)
4. SALEM’S BEND – Salem’s Bend
Salems Bend are making a statement with their self titled album released on Christmas Eve Eve of last year. It’s only fitting that the band has gathered a crowd of music buffs in its short month of air play and for good reason. Right off the bat the riffs on opener ‘Balshazzar’ kick you in the balls, leaving them all but blue. Vocals croon with sinister polish as an uncanny rhythm throttles layers of octane fueled fuzz. Chards of proto-metal flinging blues licks soar like flying predator skulls attacking under a blood red sky. Sabbath worship preaches a distorted psych opera as the stoney grooves awaken a spirit of Earthless meets Fu Manchu. This Los Angeles 3-piece is HOT, the bandcampers are chatting, labels are gasping, and the future looks bright for these heavy rockers! Keep your eyes and ears peeled ~ Bucky Brown (The Ripple Effect)
3. CONAN – Revengeance
The United Kingdom’s ancient metal warriors have returned in all their primordial fury! I admit, I was initially skeptical that Conan would have anything new to say, but god damn it, ‘Revengeance’ has made me a believer. The songs are definitely signature Conan, but with the kind of battering ram force hinted at in Blood Eagle. Doubters need only hear “Thunderhoof” to be persuaded, but surprises like this one abound on the new LP. Gird your loins for action! We now have our battle anthem and we’re going to war ~ Billy Goate (Doomed & Stoned)
2. EGYPT – Endless Flight
The phrase “power trio” is often bandied about for any old act consisting of three players, but if there’s any current band truly deserving of that designation it would be Fargo, North Dakota’s Egypt. The band’s second full-length, Endless Flight, spotlights everything that the band has done so well since the release of their debut self-titled EP. Endless Flight, with its doom-tinged, blues driven hard rock, is not much of a departure from the band’s excellent 2013 full-length Become the Sun, but it does come across as meticulously refined almost to the point of perfection. Egypt has, from the very beginning, proven to be the real deal and the band continues to hone their sound—the musicianship on Endless Flight is staggering and is in no short supply of obliterating riffs and extended jams ~ Steve Miller (Vertical Chamber Apparatus, Heathen Harvest)
1. WITCHCRAFT – Nucleus
Nucleus may not quite glow with the same retro radiance as found on their self-titled or Firewood, but it is both warmer and dirtier compared to their divisive last outing, Legend, and the album is HEAVY. Despite the band’s newfound heft, the album is well balanced and is in no short supply of melody and hooks. Keys, flute, theremin, and cello are tastefully interwoven throughout the tracks adding both texture and depth. For those who view Legend as a misstep and a blot upon an otherwise impressive discography can rest assured as Nucleus steps in as the album that Witchcraft should have recorded following The Alchemist ~ Steve Miller (Vertical Chamber Apparatus, Heathen Harvest)
Thanks again to everybody who contributed to this month’s list, these folks help give voice to the underground, so support them by checking out their respective sites:
A.S. Van Dorston (Fast n’ Bulbous); Billy Goate (Doomed & Stoned); Bill Goodman (The Evil Engineer); Bucky Brown (The Ripple Effect); Cam Crichton (Motherslug); Clint (Hand of Doom Radio); Frazer Jones (Desert Psychlist); Joe Owen (The Blog of Doom); Lucas Klaukien – ‘LK Ultra’ (Paranoid Hitsophrenic); Lyk (Phantasmagoria); Mari Knox Knox (Doommabbestia); Melissa (Doomed & Stoned); MeteorJadd (The Ripple Effect); Paul Rote (Doomed & Stoned); Rod Reinhardt (Captain Beyond Zen); Skip (The Burning Beard); Steve Howe (Outlaws of the Sun); Steve Miller (Vertical Chamber Apparatus, Heathen Harvest); Steve Woodier (The Shrieks From Below); Tony Maim (Black Insect Laughter, Stoner HiVe); Ulla Roschat (Wicked Lady) and Vasilis Durden (Heavy Lifting CLV).