The briefest of perusals through our archives will indicate that we Villagers cover a sizable share of doom (and affiliated genres.) For me, doom and stoner rock are the progenitorial genres--the heavy music that got me into heavy music to begin with. Regrettably, I just haven’t been in the mood for the low ‘n’ slow for some time, and while a number of solid releases have come and gone, nothing has truly drawn me back into the fold.
Not until today, that is, when Fumarole’s latest single, Valley, found its way into our drafty scriptorum...and stayed here, on repeat, for quite some time indeed. And now, gateway opened, I'm clambering inside the doomier corners of the promo pit with grossly wild abandon. Thanks, Fumarole, for your unintentional service. But enough blathering; let's get to the track in question.
Sometimes a band has a almost-but-not-quite grand debut, the kind of album that bears the weight of rookie flaws, but speaks of something larger to come. And then, sometimes, said band delivers tenfold on their next outing, absolutely shattering notions of sophomore slump. And sometimes the groggy-eyed scribe who said he'd review the album in question in a timely manner spends two months mulling over how best to put his emamorment into words. And that lands us here, with Wolf Blood’s II spinning for what seems the umpteenth time.
Wolf Blood is one of those bands who revel in throwing a bevy of ideas at the wall and hoping they stick. Unlike most who engage in such reckless activity, these folks are really damn good at making sure it all stays up there. It’s purely original stuff, and in this business, that's a significant and rare quality.
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?
Robots of the Ancient World. If that moniker--and the accompanying artwork--doesn’t conjure a spaced-out and otherwise smoke-afflicted ethos, I urge you to back away from this decidedly cosmic Kyussian watering hole before it's too late. That's right. This impressive debut is comfortably tied to the generator rattlin’ desert rock of terra firma, yet brings enough psychedelic and astral gravitas to give credence to their cosmos-trawling identity. An appropriate Carl Sagan sample only adds to the ambiance--but really, isn't that an inevitability?
Before this particular scribe gets too mired in the nitty-gritty, let’s make two facts abundantly clear: 1). Cosmic Riders is a highly enjoyable album, quite possibly one of the genre’s best this year, and 2). as an up-n-coming stoner/desert/doom crew, Robots of the Ancient World can hang, quite comfortably, with the best of ‘em.
Instrumentally, you’ve undoubtedly heard something of a similar ilk--although perhaps without such a defined sense of nuance. Robots of the Ancient World’s are rockers through and through--pounding drums, groovy bass, and a hard rockin’ pedal-to-the-metal mentality keeps them grounded in the desert department. In terms of the general ambiance called to mind, tracks such as “In My Head” and the aforementioned “Sweet Lady” recall blazing sun and burning rubber, more so than psychedelic starlit soul searching. Given the album as a whole, however, neither “thick” nor “hefty” feel particularly apt, as the riffs remain expansive. Undeniably fuzz-ridden, yet delightfully light footed. Typically an album that actively encourages mind wandering, rather than constantly demanding attention, will fall under my spit-shined critical lens. Not so here. The (comparatively) relaxed second acts of “High and Drive” and the titular “Cosmic Riders” don't constitute mere background noise in the slightest, but their expansive and subtle nature demonstrate a very calming effect. Surely the modus operandi of these interstellar Robots, if the intro to “High and Drive” isn't enough of a hint.
A true highlight of the guitarwork is the solos--few and far between, but excellent nonetheless. See the back half of “Sweet Lady” for a particularly sweet lil’ fretboard diatribe. These exploratory guitar-centric moments work incredibly well to draw the listener in. While the central riffs never feel stale, the solos serve as glimmers of particular interest. The issue with the majority of stoner rock of the astral variety is a tendency to fall too far into the abyss. Robots of the Ancient World are quite proficient at letting you drift, but occasionally reeling in the tether.
This quality is only strengthened by the fantastic vocals, which I've seen compared, interestingly enough, to both Danzig and Jim Morrison. The former is certainly apparent--look, for example, to the self-assured gruffness on “God Particle/Oblivion Stone.” In terms of the latter, while Mr. Mojo fanboyism is, quite possibly, my greatest pet peeve, I'm frankly inclined to agree. A certain chiller-than-thou poise proliferates the entire package, adding a level of emotion that has been unfortunately lacking in the genre’s recent deluge of shout-into-the-void delivery. That said, rather than residing in languidity, he's capable of turning it up a notch--an expansive, distant, and at times mournful howl. When this is pushed to the limit, he tantalizing walks the line, stretching each note to a frayed edge. It suits the tone and shape of Cosmic Riders quite well.
Again, this is an impressive debut. In fact, the only vague misstep in sight is the penultimate “Five Eyes,” which feels overly long given its position in the album's mesh. At six and half minutes, this is an excellent track carrying some unnecessary baggage on burly shoulders. Otherwise, Cosmic Riders remains compulsively listenable and relentlessly enjoyable. It’s a noticeable step up from their self-titled debut, which frankly says a lot on its own. More than representing maturity, however, Cosmic Riders serves as a declaration of Robots of the Ancient World’s intent: to join the impressive entourage of PNW bands toiling to reinvigorate the spirit of rock. To this end, their debut credits the genre’s foundational elements, but doesn’t turn tail when prompted to deliver music that feels just unique enough to spark interest. Cosmic Riders comes highly recommended.
Robots of the Ancient World's Cosmic Riders was released March 26th, 2019.
Considering that this particular villager is decidedly one of those “album guys,” for whom singles without context hold little intrigue, reviewing a compilation is a difficult affair. Jumping from artist to artist with nary a backward glance necessitates finding a common thread, and in the case of (fellow music blog) Alternative Control's excellent Volume Doom, that thread is obvious: despite a wide range of technique, application, and general sonic appeal, every band here exemplifies the spirit of the low ‘n’ slow. Even at first blush, you’ve got a fine range on display, from the rockin’ riffage of Owl Maker’s desert groove, to the gargantuan swampy bass of Gorge, to the ethereal tones of Eye of Nix. The stoner and doom umbrella is well represented herein, and with international, national, and local Connecticut bands alike, Volume Doom defines the ideal conglomerate.
While followers of said genres will undoubtedly recognize some names here (see Year of the Cobra, 1476, and the UK’s ever-intimidating Kurokuma) there are some greenhorns as well. The most obvious example of the unheard contingent is Low Moment, whose austere-yet-oddly-emotive “Plague, Take Me Low” is--I shit you not, folks--their first and only recorded track. Between exist a variety of other groups, all of whom make exceptional use of the platform this compilation affords. At risk of showing all my cards, it’s fair to say that Volume Doom contains no skippable tracks, and if we sway you to listen, you should listen to it all, dammit. That said, resorting to describing each track (and thereby band) seems unfortunately inefficient, so while I stress that each and every song here deserves a wholehearted shout-out, we’ll trim things down to three tracks that left a particularly prominent impression.
First up we have Howling Giant, whose adventurous “The Pioneer” recalls, thematically, something Rush might have conceived in a blaze of typical lyrical prowess. While not narrative per se, “The Pioneer” makes use of tasteful samples and follows a distinct protagonist, resulting in a perpetual desire to return to the track time and time again. Call it akin to the satisfaction of re-reading a good book. Groovy yet progressively light on their feet, Howling Giant bring in both mighty riffs and subtle synths. Behind it all, at the helm of their galaxy-trawling craft, sits Zach Wheeler, bringing a level of subtle sophistication to the percussion that is, for lack of an appropriate metaphor, a genuine joy to take in.
Next up is “False Martyr” from Philadelphia's own Witching--a group that, evidently, knows how to kick in the door. Following a wonderfully misleading intro, Jacqui Powell lets it rip, self-exorcising vile caustic howls. A potent blend of blackened anguish and hardcore fury, if e’er there was. Whether reverb-stricken or charging forth with fuzzy angularity, the guitar tone is masterful on all counts, seamlessly maintaining a sense of direction amidst the track’s violent ebb and flow. “False Martyr” is doggedly forceful, and hits harder than anything else Volume Doom has on display. Despite sounding different, in the grand scheme, than its stoner-influenced brethren, Witching’s contribution works quite well as a focal point.
Lastly we have Dust Prophet, whose “Revolutionary Suicide” is an eerie (if irresistible) romp. Heather Lynn belts out a hook like few can, but that’s not the only draw: hefty guitar, massive drums, and a noticeable attention to detail in the ambiance department set Dust Prophet apart. All told, this track has a certain commercial appeal--and coming from an underground blog, I can see the implications, but bear with me. Few bands under the riff-worshipping fold can claim this level of sheer head-bopping ‘n’ air-guitar wielding gravitas. A spoken word intro and some squealing intrusions underneath the riffs provide the necessary balance--all the weirdness one needs to really stand out in a crowd. The result? A remarkably ear-wormy addition to the comp.
Because, alas, I must maintain a critical edge even in the midst of doomy excellence, it’s worth mentioning that Year of the Cobra’s contribution--opening track “The Descent”--doesn’t quite match my expectations given this Seattle powerhouse’s recent output. Here, the trademark genre-defying vocals carry themselves with less weight, particularly in the chorus itself. That said, YoTC has yet to put out a track that one could conceivably classify as “uninspired.” Otherwise, I sometimes found myself wishing that the album followed a more rigorous path of ethereal to harsh, as exemplified by the opening and closing bands--but even so, I’m not sure what a reordered tracklist might look like in practice.
Speaking to the overall mission, Jessie May--Alternative Control editor and holder-down of the Owl Maker low end--states that she hopes “all the bands on Volume Doom will gain new listeners from being part of this comp!” Frankly, every band here has contributed mightily to that end. If the point of a comp is to open doors and provide deserving bands with an audience, Alternative Control has done the doomsphere a substantial favor. As a direct result of this collection of tunes, I have been introduced to more than a few bands that will undoubtedly receive continued support. On a base level, as a consumer, its a fantastic feeling to be introduced to so many high-quality bands in a single well-curated package. Volume Doom feels like a preemptive peek into the future--a future where the bands before ye sit atop the veritable mountain of doomy competition. Highly, highly recommended.
1. Year of the Cobra -- The Descent
2. Howling Giant -- The Pioneer
3. Mourn the Light -- Embrace the Darkness
4. Owl Maker -- Sky Road
5. Gorge -- The Great Dying
6. Witching -- False Martyr
7. Pinto Graham -- High Flyer
8. Eye of Nix -- Lull
9. 1476 -- Winter of Winds
10. Dust Prophet -- Revolutionary Suicide
11. Low Moments -- Plague, Take Me
12. Kurokuma -- Dope Rider, Pt. 1
(If you’re not already a reader, check out Alternative Control for thoughtful discussions of metal...and everything else you need to live.)
Volume Doom will be released Friday, Feb. 22nd. Preorder here at a ridiculously fair price. Like, seriously. How can you go wrong?
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and heavy enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a certain groggy-eyed and highfalutin' peasantry.