Nov 29, 2011

Beastwars - S/T ...

Listen, I like using terminology.  It helps me convey otherwise complex and multi-faceted concepts with a single word and gives you, the reader, an indication of what I am trying to describe.  The trouble begins when I find something that falls through the cracks of genre conventions, takes a few out of each genre involved but doesn’t conform to any of the standards.  Then, to be blunt, I have to pull terms right out of my ass.  So here’s one: sludge rock.
That’s what Beastwars is about.  If I had to describe this genre-crossing piece of beauty, I’d say it was stoner-tinted sludge rock.  Yeah, sludge rock.  The music isn’t harsh enough to qualify for sludge metal, and isn’t stoneriffic enough to qualify as stoner metal.  It involves droning, not too overproduced but still sort of glossy-yet-dirty (think “hot mess”) guitars that churn out memorable, simple and tasteful riffs, under which a thick and nice layer of drums are added.  The bass on this album has some serious attitude, so much so that at one point, I thought that was a baby T-Rex they had wired to the sound booth.  It’s thick, sharp, nasty and roaring at times and overall brilliant.  The vocals are the game-changer here: this guy has some serious range.  The quirk is, however, he does vocals like he is drunk, in that the vocalizations are inherently unstable.  You can hear soft croons right before throaty, mumbling shouts and it’s a brilliant, all-over-the-place addition.

Now, this beast starts with “Damn the Sky” which is a perfect opener.  It alternates between chugging that one inexhaustible stoner riff like a sludge boss and letting the chords ride out a little – you can just feel the vice-grip those fretting hands have on the strings during verses.  When the band isn’t hammering you over the head with those, they add rather hushed bass and throaty vocals.  This trend actually carries into the second track, “Lake of Fire” which presents the more flowing and more restricted/controlled version of the same riff, in opposition.  With a sweeping solo section and an ending that suddenly starts building on the main riff by making it heavier and heavier, it’s a colossal track.

Then comes “Mihi” and it’s got this quirky, playful, hammer-on riff that I guarantee will get stuck in your head the instant you hear it. The song itself is carried on by more pronounced bass, throaty, rambling vocals and slight, psych rock-like variations on the main riff on the second verse.  Packing a brilliant chorus riff and a heavy, delicious bridge section, this track exemplifies what sludge rock is all about.  Next up is “Daggers” which, frankly, reminds me of another song.  The churning riff, the bass-with-serious-attitude, the sweeping leads and vocal concentration on a singular phrase (“Play it loud” in this case, which they do) carries the song, and it’s a good, slow burning sludge rock track with nice dynamism to it: this dynamism is more apparent in the chorus-like sections where the guitarwork briefly branch out into post-metal/sludge territories.

Then comes “Calling Out the Dead” which pulls an interesting trick with the main riff.  See, it’s a bunch of notes (I figured, 8th) the first four bars, but in the second, each note is elongated by nearly one-half (as opposed to two, which I figure is a 6th note.) It provides nice flow and this infectious riff carries us towards the soaring, sweeping, overarching, beautiful chorus sections.  The song also mingles both parts with a latter-part riff that combines both the more focused riffing and the spread-wing solo.  Watch out.  Next up is “Red God” which is where the sludge tones, the (g)rumbling bass are applied to a heavy metal song structure; the riff is very heavy metal, and the rest of the song is made to accompany.  It’s a very nice, very easy-going track for most listeners, I think, with a nice bridge, a good solo, very serious bass sound and good flow.  It’s a bit generic, I suppose, but that’s a high point.
Now, that’s where the album gets weird.  To follow the head-bang-fest that was “Red God” with the softer, almost ballad-like “Iron Wolf” isn’t the best of decisions.  “Iron Wolf” suddenly moves into post-rock and doom-ballad like territories without warning and, coupled with hush-hush growl of vocals and soothed guitarwork, it’s a curveball that’s in the wrong album.  It’s a lethargic track with the same riff re-iterated in verses and choruses, and the riff is good, it’s just that the song is too… I don’t know, light, too in the air, too out there to make sense in the context of this album.  And just when things can’t get any weirder, it’s followed up by “Cthulu.” It’s a track fitting it’s name, because it’s this weird, atmospherics experiment undertaken with a steady riff, the same throaty vocals that provide contrast with the otherwise serene soundscape, drums that feel sampled and keyboard and guitar atmospherics helping it along.  It just makes me question what it’s doing here, as both tracks are too out of the left field.  These two aren’t bad songs, per se, but they don’t belong in this album.

So, just like that, the album, as if picking up from where it left off, it brings back some of the thick, heavy, frenetic and addictive riffing of the album, along with sludge tendencies (the main riff reminds me of some of the more classical sludge songs) with “Empire.”  It has a good, sizeable refrain that adds to the atmosphere by featuring another soaring/sweeping pass at the instruments, the nicely-done, yet technical solo, the general feel and fleshy weight of the music.  It’s a hard-hitting, teeth-grinding, sledgehammer riff-fest that… well, hits hard and brings the album to a glorious close.  However, it does create more doubts as to the necessity of the two tracks preceding it.  Anyway.
SO, OVERALL, HOW DOES BEASTWARS FARE? Well, it’s a brilliantly done album full of skillfully crafted, ear-worm songs.  The riffs are memorable and quirky, the band’s blend of stoner influences to sludge and adding, as spice, a dash of doom is a winning combination and the way everything comes together feels very organic.  Further, perhaps a pitfall as well as a high point at the same time, the album is very easy to get into and very easy to digest.  This marks a different perspective for myself, as I like just enough challenge with my albums (not too much, not too little) and those looking for something that takes weeks to adequately digest and years to understand might find it lacking.  As it stands, though, this is a minor and listener-specific issue and there is nothing wrong with this album.  Get it.  9/10

NOTE: 1 points off for flow issues. Oh, and regarding the riff-trick of “Calling Out the Dead”, I might be thinking in bass terms, but you get the picture, I hope.

Words: Sarp Esin

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