When Psychedelic Rock was born in the late ‘60s, many observers thought it was just a fad. That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Though the first wave of Psychedelia rose and died out quickly, its influence can still be felt in Rock music today, more than 50 years later. The Psychedelic boom of the ‘60s also eventually gave rise to other Rock sub-genres, such as Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, and even Stoner Rock.
Like Stoner Rock or almost any other genre, Psychedelic is sometimes used as a catch-all term applied to many Rock bands. Several bands use Psychedelic elements, but few bands do it consistently. After all, even rock legends The Rolling Stones tried their hand at Psychedelic Rock with their 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request.
So, what exactly defines Psychedelic Rock? First off, Psychedelic music is closely tied to drug culture – just like Stoner Rock. Many of the original Psychedelic bands attempted to make music that would mimic the effects of mind-expanding drugs, especially LSD. This hasn’t changed much with Psychedelic Rock bands today.
Psychedelic Rock can also be defined as music that’s heavy on experimentation and using the studio itself as an instrument. Like Stoner Rock, Psych-Rockers will use feedback and fuzzbox effects on guitars, but they’ll also use elaborate studio effects like extreme reverb, backmasking, and long delay loops.
11 of the Most Important Modern Psychedelic Rock Bands You Should Know
When thinking about Modern Psychedelia, the bands that come to mind are probably acts like Tame Impala and The Flaming Lips. But it’s debatable if those artists are even Rock bands, as they’ve molded and morphed their sound into more Dream Pop and Indie territories.
At Monster Riff, we’re all about hard-driving Rock ‘n’ Roll, so we devised a list of the top 11 modern Psychedelic Rock Bands that combine elements of Stoner and Heavy Psych Rock. Without further ado, here’s the list:
The Black Angels
Essential Psychedelic Album: Passover (2006)
Taking their name from a Velvet Underground song, The Black Angels are one of the quintessential Psychedelic Rock acts of the past 20 years. The band hails from Austin, Texas, and started a Psych Rock festival there in 2008 now called Levitation. They also toured and collaborated with the late Roky Erickson, formerly of the pioneering psych rockers the 13th Floor Elevators.
The Black Angels combine a Garage Rock sound and sinister riffs and lyrics with a throwback ‘60s-style Psychedelia. Their debut album, Passover, may be their best, as it includes classics like the menacing “Young Men Dead.” But they’ve cranked out four other unsettling and mind-bending studio albums since then.
If you want to dig into The Black Angels, start with “Bad Vibrations,” the opening track off 2010’s Phosphene Dream. The eerie synth effects drone over lead singer Alex Maas’s haunting vocals, combined with reverb guitar effects to create a kind of nightmare psychedelic track like an acid trip gone wrong.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
Essential Psychedelic Album: I’m in Your Mind Fuzz (2014)
To say a band defies genre is often cliché. But with King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, it’s very much true. Not only do they shatter anything resembling genre categories, but they also jump from genre to genre with each album they release.
And they’ve released a shit-ton of albums – a total of 17 since the band first formed in 2010. The prolific rockers from Australia once released a stunning five albums in a single year (2017)!
Summing up what King Gizzard has done since exploding onto the rock scene is difficult because it seems like they’ve done nearly everything. They’ve explored everything from Thrash Metal (2019’s Infest the Rats’ Nest) to Garage Rock (2012’s 12 Bar Bruise), and they’ve written and produced several concept albums, including one about the murder of the universe. Recently, King Gizzard has even experimented with microtonal music using custom-built guitars.
Through it all, you could very well peg King Gizzard as a Psychedelic band and one that consistently experiments with Psychedelic Rock elements. Start your King Gizzard journey by checking out their fifth record, I’m in Your Mind Fuzz (2014). It’s a wild trip that includes diverse elements like driving guitar instrumentals, howling harmonicas, and freaky-folk acoustics.
Essential Psychedelic Album: Omens (2020)
Elder started their career as Doom Metal and Stoner Sludge, but their sound has evolved over the years to incorporate many Psychedelic elements. The band has the technical prowess of Progressive Rockers and the ability to craft long, cinematic albums with melodic riffs one can easily get lost in.
Elder’s third album, Lore (2015), is where the band began to hone a distinctive sound of heavy and experimental Psych Rock. They’re darlings of the Rock underground, and for a good reason. Reflections of a Floating World (2017) saw the band continue to make intricate and beautiful Heavy Rock, despite the depressing lyrical themes of modern society’s decay.
But if you want to hear Elder at their Psychedelic best, start with their latest offering: 2020’s Omens. The album has a kaleidoscope of sounds as they introduce the synthesizer and keyboard to the mix and tone down the heaviness for a more spaced-out instrumental journey.
Essential Psychedelic Album: Loopholes (2014)
There must be something in the water in Australia. The Murlocs are another awesome Psychedelic Rock act to emerge from down under in the past decade, developing a cult-like following much like King Gizzard. Two members of the Murlocs (Ambrose Kenny-Smith and Cook Craig) are also a part of Gizzard, and the band has played at notable Psych-Rock festivals like Gizzfest and Levitations.
The Murlocs’ sound harkens back to late-60s Psychedelia while adding R&B grooves and sun-drenched vibes that make one think of a heavier version of Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Kenny-Smith (lead vocals) has said one of his major musical influences is the obscure Psychedelic Rock pioneers Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, so it makes sense The Murlocs feel like a throwback to the ‘60s.
The band has released four LPs since 2014, and all of them have heavy Psychedelic vibes, featuring Kenny-Smith’s unmistakable vocal style and harmonica and a general hallucinogenic Surf-Rock feel. Start from the beginning with this band and their debut 2014 LP, Loopholes. Songs like “Space Cadet” encapsulate their catchy sound, and the album’s final track, “Loopholes,” closes perfectly with a long, meditative jam.
Essential Psychedelic Album: Szabodelico (2020)
Danish rockers Causa Sui have been at the forefront of the European Psychedelic Rock scene for the past 16 years. Their earlier albums, such as Euporie Tide (2013), had a heavier, Stoner-Rock feel to them, drawing inspiration from the Palm Desert Scene and American Fuzz Rock.
But Causa Sui’s sound has significantly evolved over the years, culminating in their latest masterpiece, Szabodelico. The record’s sound is airy and light and largely experimental, as the band mimics Free Jazz and musical influences like Popol Vuh and Miles Davis’s electric albums like Bitches Brew.
Causa Sui has released a ton of music since 2005, including five LPs, two live albums, and two trilogies of studio sessions. You can’t go wrong starting with any of the band’s work, but we recommend checking out Szabodelico first. As summer approaches, it’s the perfect record for a hot, lazy afternoon.
All Them Witches
Essential Psychedelic Album: Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (2015)
Along with The Black Angels, All Them Witches (ATW) is one of the darker Psych-Rock bands on this list. Instead of the bright, British-inspired Pop Psychedelia of the ‘60s, All Them Witches play a grimy, hard-driving rock that verges from bluesy to punishing riffage. All of it, though, is tinged with Psychedelic influences.
Most of the band’s albums include at least one eight-minute-plus track with extended instrumental jamming and a feeling of eerie ambiance. Lightning at the Door (2013) saw ATW take a tremendous artistic leap and hone a distinctive sound, featuring bizarre psyched-out folk tales of songs like “Funeral for a Great Drunken Bird” and “The Marriage of Coyote Woman.”
ATW’s latest album, Nothing as the Ideal (2020), is haunting and may be their best to date, but Monster Riff recommends starting with Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. One of our favorite tracks on the album is the closer, “Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters.” It’s an ominous seven-plus minutes of lead singer Charles Michael Parks Jr. channeling Jim Morrison with spoken-word lyrics over churning guitar-playing.
Essential Psychedelic Album: Howls from the Hills (2001)
Dead Meadow formed in the late ‘90s in Washington, D.C., and the band’s three founding members (Jason Simon, Steve Kille, and Mark Laughlin) were originally active in D.C.’s Punk/Indie scene. Dead Meadow, however, has consistently made records over their career that fuse their love of ‘60s Psychedelia and ‘70s Classic Rock influences like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.
Simon (vocals/guitar) and Kille (bass) have kept Dead Meadow going for a long time, blending Stoner Rock sensibilities with lyrical themes influenced by their love of authors H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien.
All the band’s eight studio LPs are worth checking out, but we suggest digging in first to Howls from the Hills (2001). Possibly their most Psychedelic and out-there album, songs like “Drifting Down Streams” and “The White Worm” feature slow-tempo, fuzzed-out guitars that drone over Simon’s mumbled, hazy vocals. The album was mostly recorded in an Indiana barn, and its aesthetic reminds one of a group of hippies trapped in the country rolling face for days.
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets
Essential Psychedelic Album: High Visceral, Pt. 1 (2016)
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets is another band to recently emerge from Australia’s fertile Rock scene, inspired by the likes of Pond and Tame Impala. In addition to putting out four high-quality LPs since 2016, the band is somewhat of a blueprint for a do-it-yourself style other young Rock bands can emulate.
Porn Crumpets record most of their songs themselves and created their own record label (What Reality? Records) in 2017. Having “psychedelic” in their name isn’t the only thing that makes them a premier Psych-Rock act, though. Despite the variety of noises they produce, their songs are tight and well-crafted.
High Visceral, Pt. 1, their debut LP, is my favorite of theirs. Jack McEwan’s hypnotic, reverb-laden vocals perfectly accompany both the hard-driving tracks like “Cornflake” and the more meditative ones, like the closer “Denmark / Van Gogh & Gone.” The band has described their sound as “an energetic mess of colour and tone,” and it’s undoubtedly true.
But where in the hell did that get that name from? McEwan (vocals, guitar) has said it was inspired by Mighty Boosh, a British comedy troupe, and it started as a joke while taking a university class. That explains it … I guess.
Essential Psychedelic Album: IV (2016)
Black Mountain leader and founding member Stephen McBean came up in the Canadian Punk Rock scene in the ‘80s. However, you won’t hear a lot of Punk in Black Mountain, except for recurring lyrical themes of rebelliousness. Black Mountain has put out great Stoner Rock infused with Psychedelia since 2004, drawing on a diverse range of influences from Led Zeppelin to the Velvet Underground.
Their 2008 LP In the Future put them on the map, featuring favorites like the catchy “Wucan” and the long, trippy freak-out of “Bright Lights.” But perhaps their most Psychedelic record was IV, a spaced-out adventure that harkens back to ‘70s Classic Rock but still sounds boldly original.
Black Mountain has been around since 2004 but has only put out five LPs (not including a documentary soundtrack). But that’s not because they slack off. Many of the band members are involved in cool side projects that inform Black Mountain’s unique sound.
One of those projects is Sinoia Caves, the solo alter-ego of the band’s keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt. As Sinoia Caves, Schmidt composed the nightmarish score for a Sci-Fi/Horror film, Beyond the Black Rainbow, and trust us, it’s worth checking out.
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats
Essential Psychedelic Album: Blood Lust (2012)
If The Black Angels and All Them Witches are two of the darker bands on this list, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats make them look like Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross.
Uncle Acid began as a solo project of Kevin Starrs but has since gathered a cult following of fans who love the catchy but sinister music Starrs has created since 2009. If Psychedelic Rock recalls “Flower Power” and the Summer of Love, Uncle Acid is a reminder of the bleak underbelly of the hippie counterculture that also featured Charles Manson and LSD-induced deaths.
From the band’s very first record, Vol. 1 (2010), the Uncle Acid sound has stayed pretty consistent: a blend of early Black Sabbath and ‘60s pop melodies. If you want to travel down the Uncle’s dark alleyway, get started with their breakthrough, Blood Lust, which features classics like “I’ll Cut You Down” and “13 Candles.”
Essential Psychedelic Album: Orion (2016)
We fawned over King Buffalo last year when they released the excellent Dead Star, a mammoth concept album obsessed with space.
The trio from Rochester, NY (a short drive from Buffalo, NY) are contemporary Psych Rock heroes. On tracks like “Orion,” (from 2016’s Orion), the band channels the very best of Pink Floyd, creating a cosmic soundscape to display their stunning vocals, powerful drums, and infectious bass lines.
For those who are thoroughly enamored with King Buffalo, good news is here: The band is releasing their next album, The Burden of Restlessness, on June 4 of this year. You can take a look on the King Buffalo Bandcamp page. (Update: Read our review of The Burden of Restlessness!)