As 2013 winds down, I’m reflecting on the year that was and realizing that it was undoubtedly the most successful year in label history, chocked with wall to wall true bangers, top sellers, and critical acclaim the likes we’ve never seen. You always hope that every single album is going to be heard the same way you hear it once it finds its way out into the world, but sometimes the world has completely different plans and reactions that you can ever anticipate.

With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the last 17 years as a whole and put together what I felt were the 4 top Magic Bullet albums that should be regarded as hidden, under-appreciated gems within the larger catalog of work. I sincerely hope someone reading this discovers and completely flips out on at least one of the albums listed – enjoy!

4. THE WAYWARD “Overexposure” LP | CD | Digital

Release date: January 8, 2008

What’s up with it: This album came about after seeing the band play live a good amount of times and being thoroughly blown away by what the three guys could do musically and vocally. There was just a ton going on with every song. Heaviness, technicality, odd time signatures without sacrificing groove, really cool vocal delivery akin to a lot of mid-90′s Dischord-esque bands (HOOVER, LINCOLN, et al), and just flat out shredding. At the time, there was a lot of interest and popularity being paid to bands like MASTODON, THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, and BEHOLD… THE ARCTOPUS, who were all doing technical stuff and blending it with various facets of metal and other sources. Given THE WAYWARD‘s live sets, I felt there was a high ceiling for them to grow into and that the marketplace was ripe for appreciation of what they were doing musically at the time. Beyond that, I was high on how DIY this album was. The band’s guitarist/vocalist Nick recorded the album, the band mixed it together, and then Nick did the entire layout. It felt good to support that type of effort and ambitious work ethic.

Why it might not have caught on as much as it should: While I absolutely (still) love the completely DIY nature of the recording and production, it might have stood in the way of itself in terms of communicating how disgustingly good the songs and band were live. That intangible “it” factor that a lot of established recording engineers are known and paid and in demand for is something that’s very real and sometimes I think that an outside set of hands and ears might have captured THE WAYWARD in the precise manner that made me so excited about their live shows. In my opinion, the recording itself doesn’t capture the absolute monster that the band truly was. Further, unlike MASTODON, THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, and BEHOLD… THE ARCTOPUS, THE WAYWARD didn’t necessarily have other facets that made them easier to brand and market and sell to listeners. They never had a “look,” they never had a big name producer, they didn’t employ gimmicky antics and live performances, or visual aesthetic, and on and on. It’s a shame: they toured their asses off and were absolutely a band’s band (I had so many conversations about these guys with other band people that loved their music), but the awareness and enthusiasm tapered sharply past the DIY circuit.

3. ROMANCE OF YOUNG TIGERS “I Have Supped Full on Horrors” LP | CD | Digital

Release date: August 12, 2008

What’s up with it: I still get excited talking about this band. They hailed from Dayton, Ohio and were comprised of this bizarre melange of personalities. Concepts and plans seemed to originate from a guitar player named Seth, who was not unlike the Charlie Kaufman character in “Adaptation.” Think manic genius stuffed with anxiety and over-thinking EVERYTHING in the most lovable way possible. The other guys (guitarist Gabe and bassist Aaron) thus had to play more laid back personality-wise in order to not feed into total collective mania. They didn’t even bother with a drummer or percussionist in any form whatsoever. It was just a giant wall of incredible, moving sounds. Eerie, stirring, introspective… everything fucking AWESOME about instrumental music/noise, not unlike GYBE. Seth would stay up for days hand-screening almost all of the art for their merch and releases and emailing like-minded people around the country just to connect. Much like THE WAYWARD, the total DIY approach to this band won my heart beyond the music being totally killer. They didn’t need a label to do what they envisioned and, in some ways, that’s precisely why I wanted to get involved and see if their sound could touch many more people like it did me.

Why it might not have caught on as much as it shouldI Have Supped Full on Horrors is roughly 36 minutes (typical full length time), but it’s only 4 “songs.” A lot of retailers and potential reviewers saw it as an EP and passed. It’s a shame because, formats aside, it’s just an incredible documentation of a band making great noise that still really holds up. In my mind, it seemed only natural that fans of THIS WILL DESTROY YOU (whom we’d just had major success with on two full length albums) would gravitate toward what ROYT had going on. Maybe people wanted a drummer playing atop these compositions? I genuinely don’t feel that this band needed one, but I have heard theories that some type of percussion would have elevated the interest substantially. It kind of doesn’t matter… I know the guys had a blast doing this band and making their albums and I’m still honored to have played a part in spreading that music out there a bit. Great band, great album.

2. VALERIAN SWING “A Sailor Lost Around the Earth” CD | Digital

Release date: April 12, 2011

What’s up with it: Full length album from three Italian lunatics playing mathy, violent, anthemic, and largely-instrumental songs that are concise and to the point. Imagine if DON CABALLERO fell into the biggest collection of seized meth in the western hemisphere and had to smoke, punch, and kick their way out in order to save their families from being fed to piranhas… it’s somehow more urgent and frantic than even that scenario. Unlike THE WAYWARD album (comparable in terms of complexity of composition), VALERIAN SWING understood the value of bringing in a big gun to capture the madness of their sound. The entire album was tracked, mixed, and produced by Matt Bayles (BOTCH, MINUS THE BEAR, ISIS, et al). It’s perfect. Beyond that, the artwork is killer and the band goes completely bonkers live. On paper, this album and this band have everything it takes to be embraced by a ton of music enthusiasts.

Why it might not have caught on as much as it should: Breaking a brand new European band in America is a daunting task on its own. We actually were able to get a decent amount of early interest from people that had supported other instrumental albums on the label in the past and then tasked our distributor/PR house to take the ball and run. Instead, the president of our distributor/PR house at the time decided to spend all of the company’s revenue on an opiate habit that ultimately sunk the entire operation. On March 14, 2011 (one month before release date), there was an intervention with this individual at his place of work and plans were hatched to right the ship. Well, the ship couldn’t be righted and this release didn’t stand a chance whatsoever. Within a couple months of the intervention, labels (including Magic Bullet) were pulling stock out of the distributor’s warehouse and attempting to find new homes. All PR and retail solicitation was non-existent. We immediately found a new distributor… and then THEY folded as well. By the time we got settled into a stable situation, the potential cycle and opportunity to do this album justice had long passed.

1. DISAPPEARER “The Clearing” 2xLP | CD | Digital

Release date: May 5, 2009

What’s up with it: Think of everything awesome about classic NEUROSIS and pair it with everything awesome about Boston heavy music from the mid to late 90′s. That’s DISAPPEARER, an absolutely incredible band that formed out of a Boston hardcore band called THERE WERE WIRES in 2003 (while also sharing DOOMRIDERS bassist Jebb Riley). Early stages of the band were experimental for years until the guys were able to hone in on this unbelievable sound and focus that manifested itself into an absolute behemoth of a band. To capture the brilliance that is The Clearing, the band employed one of the best behind the boards: Kurt Ballou at God City in Salem. Kurt unquestionably nailed it. The band unquestionably nailed it. Jebb’s packaging concept and execution was fascinating.

To be fair, the album was successful in that we were able to sell through the first press of the vinyl and moved a respectable amount of CD’s. It wasn’t a bomb or a stinker in the traditional sense at all. On the road, the band got respect from audiences and bands, as BORIS (who was white hot at the time) and RUSSIAN CIRCLES (same) even had them on a tour package at the height of their North American popularity. There was just a sense that The Clearing should be captivating people far beyond what sales numbers were indicating.

Why it might not have caught on as much as it should: Looking through this entire list, it’s occurring to me that all these bands are trios. While odd, I’m sure there’s no actual correlation. In DISAPPEARER‘s specific case, I can attest that the mitigating factor is likely how hard the album got screwed on the retail, distribution, and promotion end, as the Lumberjack-Mordam Distribution Group’s slow and crippling demise hit fever pitch right around The Clearing‘s May 5, 2009 release date. Instead of soliciting and shipping out product to stores and pushing releases, Lumberjack-Mordam employees were dropping like flies and the whole thing just bled hard until it bled out. It’s a real shame because Lumberjack had played such a major role in breaking so many like-minded Boston-area bands to retail (ISIS, CAVE IN, CONVERGE, etc.), but had become so far removed and completely inept once major (literal… as in, major label) conflicts led ownership down rabbit holes of unending implosion and embarrassing strategy.

While regarded by plenty of people as a great album amongst certain heavy music circles, there will forever be a sense in me that The Clearing is without a doubt the most criminally underrated album we’ve ever released in 17 years.

- Brent Eyestone