There’s a certain timeless appeal encapsulated by Ireland’s Withered Fist. Their doomy approach isn’t drenched in excessive distortion, nor tempered by stoner metal’s typical head-in-the-clouds mentality. Rather, assertive melodic overtones, attention to compositional interest, and a seemingly no-nonsense attitude, sets apart their debut EP--entitled This is My Mountain--in an admittedly crowded field. This Irish doom rocking duo is, simply put, solid.
The forward-facing vocals, while not flashy or aggressive, get the job done with a workmanlike flair. Harmony and melody reign, regardless of the weight of the track in question--look to the contrast of “The Dread” and closing track “The Journey” for an indication of Carl King’s obvious abilities in the vocal department. The former is markedly hefty and aggressive, yet never feels bogged down in its own presence or import. On the latter track, King deftly handles a simple chorus and some particularly gentle passages on the back half, seemingly approaching the affair in a straightforward and upbeat manner, which feels, I must admit, quite fresh.
The instrumentals, which are all handled by the multi-talented Justin Maloney, are simultaneously monolithic and lighthearted. Truly a quality that, when combined with the aforementioned vocals, lends This is My Mountain an understated dynamism. The title track, by way of example, has moments that soar, and moments, in turn, that feel mere steps away from sludgy peat-bog thick riffage. Withered Fist avoid stagnation with grace. As a result, the lengthy tracks contained herein feel nearly half their respective lengths. All told, this duo has set themselves up quite nicely for a debut full length. This EP has been gaining a lot of airtime as of late, and I’m anxious to see what more they are capable of.
Withered Fist - This is My Mountain was released January 2019. Listen to "The Journey" below, and check out Withered Fist on bandcamp.
Sometimes, an album I place on frequent rotation for review simply...well, never leaves rotation. It becomes so integral to my listening habits that the notion of writing a review becomes almost antithetical, because to write a review is often an admittance that it's time to wrap up my thoughts, take a break, and move on to other releases. Where Light Goes to Die, the sophomore effort from Atlanta's hard-rocking HOT RAM is, needless to say, such an album.
This power trio have been waiting a long damn time for this write-up, so let's get to it!
In many ways, HOT RAM appears to hit the ground running as a fairly prototypical doom/stoner rock outfit. Thick and bluesy grooves. Relaxed and expansive vocals, with just enough pent-up aggression to merit that sweet sludgy association. Fuzzy riffs that stretch and wind with a laid-back mentality and an exploratory spirit. That's all well and good--I mean, honestly, what else are we really here for. But alas, HOT RAM conquers the expected tropes with ease, and, fairly immediately, demonstrate that they have much more in store.
Where Light Goes to Die is, at heart, a hard rockin’ album, and it is this quality that took me most by surprise. HOT RAM fire on all cylinders with marked consistency, performing with the braggadocious air of a demin-clad classic rock outfit, without delving into the airy arena of radio-friendly singles. It’s like if Accept or early Judas Priest were converted by the Church of Misery. This mix of high energy riffage, pounding drums, and bass with ‘tude on one hand, and psychedelic meanderings on the other, is pretty damn potent.
The guitar feels fairly staple and straightforward in its approach, but it becomes apparent quite quickly that mere amp-worship ain't necessarily the name of the game. Take, for example, the frantic scale climbing that marks the finale of "Tribes of Titan," or the delightful sidewinding riff on (psych standout) "Petra," or the grinding aggression of "Nova Caesari," or the earnest rollicking of "Snake River." It is to their great credit that these tracks, and indeed every song here, feels like a very unique entity in the album's overall fabric. There's nothing here that should be cut, or refined, or even trimmed. As much as I love the genre, we all know the truth of the matter: in the hazy confines of stoner rock, sophistication and brevity aren't always the qualities most sought. HOT RAM throw that stereotype in the woodchipper, delivering six massive (yet varied) bangers.
I just listened to this album in full for the sole purpose of determining which track is my favorite. In conclusion? I genuinely cannot make that determination. Yer just gonna have to grab this HOT RAM by the horns and experience it in full unadulterated glory. Be part of the reason these guys get a little more attention. If it isn’t obvious thusfar, Where Light Goes To Die comes highly recommended. But yet, the question remains: will it leave constant rotation as a result of this review finally being unveiled?
As obnoxious as it is to have people stoically refuse to admit that rock is, in fact, not dead, it's more obnoxious still to have a critic point out how patently absurd that statement is. So I'll refrain from falling down that particular rabbit hole. Needless to say, LA’s Void Vator plays some damn fine rock ‘n’ roll with the best of ‘em, and, from all accounts, they've got nowhere to go but up. With Stranded, their new massive 6-track EP, these boys are currently on the last(ish) leg of a national tour. If there was e’er a time to dust out the cobwebs and get back into chorus slinging high energy rock, yer looking at it.
Biographical material indicates a similarity to bands as diverse as Nirvana, Pantera, Megadeth and Foo Fighters. An eclectic mix, yes, yet oddly accurate. Take quite literally any track here--let’s say Nothing to Lose or the dynamic Put Away Wet, for argument’s sake--and you’ll find the best elements of the aforementioned lurking mere inches below the surface. Bottom line: if you want your rock to have it, Void Vator wears it proudly. Short tracks. Grin-inducing solos. Blatantly air guitar-able riffs, which create and subsequently release kinetic energy like one taking a boltcutter to a tightly wound coil. Straightforward head-bopping groove. Aggressively present drums. Some of the more earwormy vocal melodies I’ve heard in a very long while--and this, I mean genuinely.
“Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” riffs Grohl in some long-forgotten internet video. Rock may live and/or die by the guitar, but within the genre confines, a band’s staying power is often dependent on the vocalist’s ability to write the kind of chorus that get trapped in your head for days. Here, Void Vator succeeds remarkably. Take standout track Inside Out, which features a hook that wouldn't go amiss in a newfound single from Audioslave or (the oft-neglected) Manman God. Lucas Kanopa’s classically gruff voice has the golden ability to inflict nostalgia-ridden glee, and if your track delivers a reaction of that pedigree, you’re doing something right. From an industry standpoint, “radio ready” has, unfortunately, become a bit of an unfortunate insult. Stranded deserves a wide audience, plain ‘n’ simple, and they’ve got the potential in spades. This EP's high octane strains have graced the Sleeping Village's halls upwards of 20 times this past week. It's dangerously repeatable, to the detriment of a certain stack of promos.
Critically, the catchiness of each track does depend largely on the vocals. Personal preference, no doubt, but a thicker guitar tone might make these catchy-as-hell riffs a little heftier in stature. There's a thin line between remaining accessible and beating up your audience, but as it stands now, the guitar sounds a tad thin.
Perhaps most importantly, Void Vator aren’t boring. If that sounds like a grossly under-applied veneer of accomplishment, know that dynamism and maintained interest are...startlingly rare. For a genre that has historically gotten by on singles and lots of filler, packing a punch with all 6 tracks is a victory. Let there be no doubt: as long as high energy bands like Void Vator are doing the rounds and writing kickass tunes, rock ain’t going anywhere. Keep fighting the good fight.
Void Vator’s (highly recommended)Stranded was released March 28th. They are currently embroiled in their Skeleton Crew tour. Listen to the aforementioned Inside Out, and check out remaining dates below:
4.14 Chicago, IL @ Underground Lounge
4.15 Louisville, KY @ Highlands Tap Room Bar & Grill
4.17 Memphis, TN @ Growlers
4.18 Arlington, TX @ Division Brewing
4.19 San Antonio, TX @ The Guillotine
4.20 San Angelo, TX @ The Deadhorse
4.21 El Paso, TX @ RCBG Thunderbird
4.22 Tuscon, AZ @ The House of Bards
Void Vator can be found: