Doomsgiving 2017

Like a lot of people in this Free Land Of Freedom, I have many things to be thankful for on this day. First of all, I am thankful that I’m spending it alone. As in, totally alone. No family, no friends, no acquaintances. Just me, my stereo, my cat, and soon to be a massive amount of Stoner/Doom!

My love of all things heavy dates back to 1975, and in that time there have been quite a few ‘heavy’ albums. By quite a few albums, I mean each year going back over three decades, there have been one or two (maybe more) that have turned out to be absolute classics. However, this year that number seems to be in the hundreds. If I remember correctly, the Doom Charts went through over 200 submissions to come up for their list in October. So,in NO particular order (This is not a “Top 10” list), here are the releases for 2017 that I am grateful to have heard:

The first song that comes to mind is from a band hailing from my home state: Lo-Pan from Ohio. The year began with their EP Intensions. From my perspective, the stand-out from the release is “Pathfinder” which is absolutely epic. In particular, the bass playing from Skot Thompson is as aggressive, tastey, and intricate as anything I have heard this year. Which means I put him right up there with Jack Donovan of Elder in the vanguard of contemporary heavy bassists. Oh, and vocalist Jeff Martin is the best singer in all of rock. Period. Show me someone else with the raw ability, range, emotion, and control as Jeff and you might change my mind. Anyway, this EP set the stage for the year ahead.

Next on my list is the over-the top Doom of Alastor. I LOVE my horror movies Hammer-Style, with the sinister screenplays and outright demonic performances of Christopher Lee. Alastor is like a soundtrack to that era of questionable taste and dubious intent. I mean, Hammer was just damn EVIL, but in a fun and fantastic way. So goes Alastor and the unquenchably dark, fun, and scary “Black Magic.” Enough with the EP’s guys: it’s time for a full length opus sinister.

Okay, okay. Anyone who knows me knew this was coming. The next two songs, from Elder’s much-admired Relfections of a Foating World, are “Staving off Truth” and “Blind.” I can’t listen to these tracks without goose-flesh cascading over my epidermis. I also can’t listen to one without the other. Seriously: the first time in years that I was deliberately late to work was when I couldn’t walk away from a double-shot of these genre-bending, mind-blowing examples of Doom as a pinnacle of Western music. Lyrically, they are the standard Doom fare full of criticism of the corruption of society. But the music! The music seems to exist to challenge the assumptions of the words, to confront them with an optimistic, powerful, and transcendent counter-argument. Out physical selves may be at aphelion, but our souls – our spirits– are indeed divine. Not only worthy of redemption, but powerful enough to achieve it. This isn’t just the album of the year. This is, potentially, the album of the decade.

Alrighty then. Back to earth. And when my spirit comes back from floating in the ethereal void, it wants to be grounded by some serious guitar-oriented ROCK. For that, there’s no better band than Youngblood Supercult. It’s impossible to pick a single track off this LP, but one song marginally haunts my psyche more than the others from The Great American Death Rattle, and that’s “Burning Messiah.” For me, it evokes those hazy Ohio August evenings spent with Cerwin Vega speakers blaring fuzz all over the place as the sun sets in amber glory. I mean, this may be the coolest, most anthemic straight ahead rock recorded since the glory days of Bad Company. It’s like everything The Cult promised in the 90’s but only gave us one or two tracks worth listening to more than once. Even then it wasn’t so much that it was great as it was the only sound to be heard on that damn radio. GRRRRRRR…..
Anyway, the band is written by, directed, and starring the incomparable Bailey Smith, who proves that women are so dominant in this genre it doesn’t even need mentioned that she’s…um…a girl. Who happens to churn out better power-chords, riffs,choruses, and lyrics than 99%…of anybody. Garrison Keillor would proud to hear what an English major can do these days. Oh, and you realize these are Millennials, right? Our guitar rock is totally in good hands with the current generation. Better than it fared with us…

Back to the Doom. By which I mean tradition DOOM. Drums. Bass. Guitar. Slow. Plodding. Intense. You get the point…
And so does Sweden’s Monolord on Rust. They have taken the original blueprint and refined it, molded, and distilled it to the point that no one else can replicate it. Except for Monolord. On three albums. In a Row. On top of that, I also agree that Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” vocals were awesome. And should be used. On every song. From now on. Screw it. I’m not picking one. Listen to them all…

When I die, please play this at any memorial, funeral, or event that marks my passing. ’nuff said.

There is nothing ‘fun’ about Mirror Reaper by Bell Witch. It is not sensationalized, it does not glorify death, and does not attempt to make a quick buck by exploiting our universal pain. It is an elevated work of art, in the tradition of Chopin’s Funeral March or Mozart’s Maurerische Trauermusik. It is not an easy listen, and at 83 minutes in length, requires a bit of a commitment. But it is an exceptional interpretation and examination of death and mortality, and rivals Elder in scope and magnitude. Words can’t really describe the experience of listening to this, but I can admit that one of the most legitimate criticisms of Heavy Metal in general is it’s tendency to go for shock, attack moral decency, and exploit pain and suffering for entertainment value. I don’t think that’s what 6-string bass virtuoso Dylan Desmond and percussionist par excellence Jesse Shreibman are doing here. The material is based on the actual death of founding member Adrian Guerra, and it comes across as heartfelt and sincere. Still, I don’t recommend this album while under the influence of psychoactive drugs: it has ‘bad trip’ written all over it. Besides, drugs distort, bend, and diminish experience. Mirror Reaper deserves your full, un-altered attention.

One of the things I try to predict when coming up with lists (though not top 10) is: will I be listening to this one, two, or even five years from now? I’m confident that all of these songs and albums are on my permanent play list. Too often, I think somethings is “GREAT” or “AWSOME”, and then after I hype the holy hell out of it, I forget I ever heard it. But not these. Which brings me to my last band to the thankful about.

Time Travel Dilemma hit me like a comet back in February, and I was immediately hooked. And then they released this- because too much is never enough…

The EP of “out takes” is even better than the LP!!! WTF???!!!!
I think Spaceslug is the Steely Dan of Heavy Psych. Except not as boring. I simply mean that as a studio band, Spaceslug is virtually perfect. Nowhere near the shear scope of Elder, the RAWK of Youngblood Supercult, or the intensity of Monolord. They aren’t showing off amazing technique or blazing riffs. Nope, Spaceslug is all about TONE. And riff. And groove. They also write melodies and choruses that need to be sung loudly in bars across their native Poland, and across the world, with beer steins in hand. I listen to Spaceslug more than anything else in my collection, from the current year or otherwise. Best release this year? Probably not. My favorite release(s) of the year? Absolutely. Both of them…

And that’s my Doomsgiving for 2017. Let me know what Stoner/Doom/Heavy Psych you’re grateful for? And remember: with music like this, we don’t need no stinkin’ drugs!

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