Written by: Volt Thrower
If you want to cook up some hype and expectations for a stoner/desert rock album, Albuquerque desert doom purveyors Red Mesa could do far worse than starting off with features from scene legends Wino and Dave Sherman, of essential acts The Obsessed and Spirit Caravan. Throw in recording and production by Matthew Tobias at Empty House Studio, who has handled massive recording projects like OM/Al Cisneros solo projects. Sprinkle in some mastering by John McBain, original guitarist of Monster Magnet, and baby, you've got a stew going. A stew absolutely bubbling over the brim with sky high expectations. Let's hope it can provide some meaty heartiness, not just a weak broth.
Any worries of The Path to the Deathless, the band's third LP through Desert Records, falling flat are immediately put to rest by opening “intro” "Ghost Bell." I generally detest intros, especially throwaway--say, unnecessary piano intros unrelated at all to the music that follows. None of that here: violins, crows and church bells, but not over the top, accent an undercurrent of warm fuzz and set a bone chilling, yet somehow comforting scene; a prevailing theme throughout the concept album of death and the beyond. The title track delivers and builds upon those feelings of existential angst. An ebbing and flowing bruiser which also arguably contains the catchiest riff and chorus on the album--no small feat given who it is featuring.
Which brings me to the features. I'm a big fan of hip hop, partly due to the collaborative nature and influences of sound on nearly every album. It's something you don't see as much in metal, and I'm not including supergroups, just a record containing features on a couple tracks. Metal being more generally album structured plays a large role, especially on a concept album where continuity is crucial in delivering your message. It almost feels like the fourth wall is being broken and it pulls you out of the deadly desert, rather than sinking you deeper. I really enjoy both tracks on their own. If you're a fan of anything Wino has released, you'll enjoy "Disharmonious Unlife," It packs good riffs and his voice is second to none, which is ironically one of my hang ups for this record--it really just steals the show and overshadows the following track, when ideally a feature would be more complimentary. The same is true of the other feature "Desert Moon" with Dave Sherman on vocals, in a slightly different way, seemingly getting lost in the midst of the emotions of the two songs it separates. Again, a really good song with the warmest fuzz tone on the record, but feels more like a desert highway cruising tune, rather than a contemplation of life and death stranded in the desert. Both songs are great, and I think there needs to be more features in metal, but these feel like they would be more at home on a split EP or something of that ilk.
Sandwiched in between the two legends, sure to be overlooked, which i can already confirm based on promo play counts, is the beautiful, brooding "Death I Am." An atmospheric, acoustic tale of dark Americana country. A dynamic wash of acoustics and pedal steel, layered with a dark emotional vocal performance deserving of its own spotlight, but does work well with and transition into Wino's track. Which just sets up double the disappointment in straight forward groover "Revelation," the least punchy and emotional song on the tracklist, with reverb-laden vocals that do more to detract than build on the conceptual theme.
The true revelatory moment of the album comes in the form of the stunning record closer "Swallowed by the Sea." In terms of sonic heft and emotional content, it is by far the heaviest song on the album. Just over nine minutes and not a second wasted, summarizing the whole theme of the record into one epic exclamation mark. While peaceful call backs of violins and pedal steel create a sense of ease, the hinted at harsh vocals from the intro make a furious comeback. A frenetic finish with all hands on deck, as the whole ship sinks into the quick-sand ocean. One last haunting bell chime and the sounds of crashing waves brings everything to a close.
After a dozen or so listens, I'm stumped on what to think of this record. It obviously sounds terrific. I'm annoyed at how many words I spent on just the two songs with features, rather than showcasing the band, and I think that sums up my overall feelings of flow and cohesion for the album. I love the idea of more features in metal, but more so on one off singles or splits, rather than such a defined concept album. Tracks 1, 2, 4, and 7 have a beautiful overarching storyline that could've been expanded to be something truly special on their own, but maybe I'm just being too nitpicky, and need to enjoy it for what it is: a bangin’ desert doom record. Let me know what you all think!
Red Mesa - The Path to the Deathless will be released June 12th from Desert Records
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!