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Across Tundras - Western Sky Ride (CD) Cover Art Across Tundras - Western Sky Ride (CD)



If you play that Neurosis/Isis strain of music, how are you going to set yourself apart from the likes of Tides, Mouth of the Architect, Souvenir's Young America, Angel Eyes, Disappearer, and all the other groups that have tread the same narrow path this year? If you're Denver's Across Tundras, you embrace your inner shitkicker and bury the vocals low in the mix. Acorss Tundras' sprawling compositions have more of a rock feel. It's as if they're playing something that, if sped up, could actually boogie. There's also a twangy aftertaste, a hint of alt-country. That could draw comparisons to Earth's Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, but Across Tundras isn't that ethereal and sparse. They're melancholy yet forward moving, and overall they live up to their billing of unleashing a "powerful new statement of rustic, crushing Americana."

Can't avoid the Isis comparisons but these guys do stray from the rigid mold. Songs are sprawling and the playing is really loose but stays heavy.

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Price: $8.99
Adrift - Black Heart Bleeds Black (IMPORT) (CD) Cover Art Adrift - Black Heart Bleeds Black (IMPORT) (CD)



Doomed in mood and guitar-led sensibility, Black Heart Bleeds Black songs follow progressive structures to vicious ends and offer little hope to those who’d take them on. More importantly, the overall impression the album gives is more individualized than was the first record, Monolito, and Adrift work within a variety of forms that maintain their pummel even as they change the direction from which that pummel comes. Tonally, it’s metal, and I hear a bit of Converge‘s bombast in the screams of “Mallet Man,” but there’s more happening in these songs than any one band comparison can really convey, the two guitars of Macon and Jorge (the latter also vocals) working into and out of tandem stretches with an ease that skillfully undercuts the difficulty of what they’re actually doing.

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Price: $15.99
Ahkmed - The Inland Sea (IMPORT) (CD) Cover Art Ahkmed - The Inland Sea (IMPORT) (CD)



Ahkmed from Melbourne delivers mellow and ambient psychedelic stoner music that swirls into big riffs and grooves. These guys are the bastard sons of Monster Magnet, Hawkwind and Kyuss!

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Price: $14.99
Altar of Plagues - Tides (IMPORT) (CD) Cover Art Altar of Plagues - Tides (IMPORT) (CD)



Ireland’s Altar of Plagues produced perhaps 2009’s best black metal debut album in the shape of the excellent White Tomb. Drawing on obvious influences like Wolves in the Throne Room, it achieved distinctive results with its rich textures and expanses of desolate blackened ambience, which were allowed to mingle with elements thrown in from leftfield (Watchers Restrained’s Khanate homage springs to mind). Tides picks up where that left off fairly seamlessly (though you won’t find anything quite as unexpected as avant-drone here), and those who wallowed in its melancholy atmosphere will find this as comfortable and unchallenging as a pair of old slippers.

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Price: $11.99
Ancestors - Invisible White (CD EP) Cover Art Ancestors - Invisible White (CD EP)



The follow up to the group’s sophomore album Of Sound Mind, Invisible White marks the debut of new member Matt Barks on Moog / modular synthesizers and charts a new course for the band’s progressive, colorful sound. The songs on the album feature a hybrid of orchestral and electronic instruments and assume an almost cinematic, film score feel augmented by guest musicians playing violin and vibraphone. Simultaneously playing to the strengths of psychedelia, prog and even rhythm and blues, the music retains Ancestors’ exploratory approach and adds a hauntingly emotional impact, pushing the band’s sound into interstellar overdrive.

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Price: $11.99
Annihilation Time - III: Tales of the Ancient Age (CD) Cover Art Annihilation Time - III: Tales of the Ancient Age (CD)



With fuzzy riffs, elongated solos and twin guitar leads ala Maiden, this is a Hessian's dream. On III: Tales of the Ancient Age, Annihilation Time leaves the D.R.I. thrash influence in a cloud of bong smoke to focus on their shredding. That is, when they aren't ingesting chemicals, breaking bottles, or diving into the broken glass. And that's why thrashers and crusties still covet this so. Not so much a party band like Municipal Waste or Spring Break, Annihilation Time is a band that happens to party. Better, they are a band that incites a party. Clearly a stoner rock band - the mustaches and denim vests prove it so - they still have the strong punk ethos in their lyrics: work sucks, get fucked, let's rage.

Oakland’s Annihilation Time are a rare, rare find for the aught years—a prodigiously talented and punk-derived guitar band that is familiar with the honest-to-goodness musical language of rock. Their third album finds the band stronger than ever, with a crushing rhythmic core and dueling guitar solos that are not only muscular and modest but purposeful. The effect of this record is something like Thin Lizzy (or maybe James Gang) if they’d signed with SST Records in ‘82. Black Flag is the clear precedent for this music, or rather this type of rhythmic drive. The rhythm section of bassist Chris Grande and drummer Noel Sullivan recalls the dynamic duo of Flag’s Kira Roessler and Bill Stevenson at their peak—a forceful, tumbling machine that seemed incapable of derailing despite the utter chaos in the guitars and singing.

What distinguishes AT from their forerunners is the absence of awkward melodic left turns in the guitar playing, and the absence of macho-dude posturing in Jimmy Rose’s vocals. This is a punk-derived rhythm section with nothing but pure hard rocking and slightly warped, riffy goodness on top (guitarists Wes Wilson and Graham Clise are simply unstoppable). Perhaps that puts them more in the Didjits’ camp than Black Flag’s. But to reduce AT to the sum of their influences is belittling; though their influences are apparent, this beast fights its own fight.

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Price: $13.99
Apostle of Solitude - Last Sunrise (IMPORT) (CD) Cover Art Apostle of Solitude - Last Sunrise (IMPORT) (CD)

Features the covers of The Obsessed's "Streetside", The Misfits' "Astro Zombies" and Born Against's "Mary and Child".

It's hard to say if they topped Sincerest Misery, because they didn't try to out-do that album, they came in with a fresh approach and vision, added some new elements, and made an album that stands on its own as undoubtedly one of the finest that will be released in 2010.

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Price: $6.66
Arc of Ascent - Circle of the Sun (IMPORT) (CD) Cover Art Arc of Ascent - Circle of the Sun (IMPORT) (CD)

Featuring Craig Williamson (Lamp of the Universe, Datura).

It was clear from the last Lamp of the Universe record, Acid Mantra, that Kiwi psychedelicist Craig Williamson was looking to do something a little more structured. Williamson, who cut his riffing teeth playing in underrated head rockers Datura, emerges from the cosmic ether now as bassist/vocalist/etc. in the trio Arc of Ascent, which continues some of Lamp of the Universe’s psychedelic exploration, but puts said psychedelia — which comes on thanks to sitar, tanpura, synths, bells, chanting, and so forth; all of which are credited to Williamson — in a more outwardly heavy context. Make no mistake, we’re still reaching out to the farthest uncharted regions of spiritual innerspace, but now we’re doing it with thick guitar riffs! Never know what you’ve been missing until you find it.

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Price: $15.99
Art of Burning Water - The Voyage of the Pessimistic Philosoph... (IMPORT) (CD EP) Cover Art Art of Burning Water - The Voyage of the Pessimistic Philosoph... (IMPORT) (CD EP)



It's a quick one, 10 songs in about 28 minutes. The tunes are hectic, heavy, spastic, schizophrenic and offbeat. Fans of stuff like Keelhaul and Today Is The Day would not be offended by this stuff. The TITD reference is especially apt in the vocals department, as one of the singers (duties are split between the bass player and guitar player) eerily imitates Steve Austin's high pitched screech. If you like it heavy but not standard, check them out.

Art of Burning Water take a hatchet to contemporary metal, hacking off pieces of sludge, stoner rock and noisecore as they go. What results is a pleasingly dense and complex record that simply refuses to be pigeonholed. The band display an eclectic palette of influences and manage to fuse them in such a way that they never come off as sounding derivative or predictable. The riffs are satisfyingly complex, employing more than enough clever time changes to keep you on your toes. All this is backed up by busy, fluid drumming that wouldn't sound out of place on a Mastodon record. The vocals are sick mid to high pitched screams that suggest the early onset of a full blown nervous breakdown.

It's a little like listening to the result of some sordid union between Keelhaul and Converge after one too many beers. Art of Burning Water have all the technical flair of a band like Keelhaul but boast a raw and venomous edge that puts me in mind of British sludge greats Iron Monkey. It's a pleasure to hear a band who haven't forgotten that straight up riffs can happily co-exist side by side with off kilter time signatures.

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Price: $9.99
Asteroid - II (IMPORT) (CD) Cover Art Asteroid - II (IMPORT) (CD)

Die-cut album cover.

You listen to an Asteroid album, and while you’re in it, the music relaxes you to a barely conscious state. You hear the laid back fuzz tones and feel as though you might melt in them. Asteroid’s infectious style is in full force on their sophomore album but their growth is also readily apparent.

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Price: $15.99