Experience and association were bound to play into my assessment of Black Thai’s Blood From on High EP (Megavox Recordings). The first time I heard their two-song demo was earlier this year, and I sat with my laptop headphones on in a hotel lounge in London, some BBC awfulness on the television, silently bobbing my head to the grooves of “The Ladder” and “Satan’s Toolshed,” both of which also show up on this five-song effort. So yeah, if my opinions are colored by that – and they might be – please take them and this review with an appropriately-sized grain of salt. For what it’s worth, I probably would have enjoyed that demo if I’d heard it on the moon, and likewise for Blood From on High, the significant underlying groove of which is palpably riff-based without being stoner or doom cliché. Black Thai are heavy rock more than they’re anything else, with shades of Soundgarden showing up in the vocals of Jim Healey (We’re all Gonna Die) and some more commercially-minded leanings in a song like “Sinking Ships” than one might expect.
The 29-minute release – an EP for its sampler qualities – makes an opening salvo of its preceding demo cuts, “The Ladder” and “Satan’s Toolshed” working as well together here as they did in their demo forms; though the recordings feel new and the guitar work of Healey and Scott O’Dowd (Cortez) more expansive, the solo work six minutes into the latter track serving as an appropriate example. Likewise, Cory Cocomazzi’s bass and the drums of Kyle Rasmussen (filling in for Jeremy Hemond of Roadsaw and also Cortez) come across fuller, and though I still might divide Blood From on High into two sections – the two demo tracks and three non-demo tracks – I have a hard time telling if that’s because of my prior familiarity with them or any actual changes in sound, style or approach on the part of the band. Third cut “Saturation Point” is less definitively riff-based than “Satan’s Toolshed,” which takes a Kyuss-style guitar progression to a place altogether darker, but Healey’s vocals in the chorus make it a highlight, and there’s still plenty of six-string groove to dig into. It’s just a sad song, rather than an aggressive one, and it sets up Black Thai as more than just a head-down, power-through riff-rock unit. If the purpose of Blood From on High is to give a quick sampling of what Black Thai can do, “Saturation Point” serves as a solid example of the subtle diversity in their attack.
The aggression comes back in “Sinking Ships,” the simple moshing riff of which could have come in any number of heavy contexts, but setting it against Healey’s melodic delivery, it does border on the commercial, at least in as much as it reaches beyond the bounds of stoner or doom accessibility to genuinely confront an audience. Healey and O’Dowd make it work for them. It’s a basic roll out, and I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something definitively East Coast about it. Perhaps that’s Black Thai’s Boston roots coming out in spite of them, I don’t know. In any case, Blood From on High takes another turn with “Sinking Ships,” which manages to say a lot in its mere 4:28 runtime about where the band is willing to go musically. Think early ‘00s college metal radio hit, and I think you’ll probably understand what I’m talking about. Black Thai are obviously just making their start, discovering who they are as players within the context of this band, but slap a more complex vocal arrangement on that song and it could easily stand up to whatever over-hyped, contrived corporate hard rock band you wanted to put next to it.
The EP closes with “333,” which brings back some of the more contemplatively dense atmosphere of the earlier cuts, and the riffy focus as well, O’Dowd and Healey leading Rasmussen and Cocomazzi through six minutes of gradual build to get to a slowing finish that’s as tight and well done as a listener could come to expect from the prior four cuts. Black Thai show some clear strength in songwriting on Blood From on High, and in a way, it feels like I’m listening to an audition tape, as though the recording was made to be shopped to labels for future release consideration. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t — I don’t know and won’t speculate — but I can just as easily hear “Saturation Point” or “The Ladder” blending in on Sons of Anarchy as any of the heavier songs they’ve used on that show, and since that kind of multi-purposefulness seems to be the measure of modern commercial viability, I have to say Black Thai have it. The material on Blood From on High is accessible without being dumbed down and heavy without being needlessly abrasive, achieving a rare balance between the two often opposing sides. I’ve seen this EP recommended specifically to fans of the members’ other outfits – i.e., We’re all Gonna Die and Cortez – but I think Black Thai reach out a heavy metal olive branch that extends beyond the mission of those acts, and I think it’s going to be fascinating to see where they end up as a band. There’s any number of places they could go with Blood From on High as their starting point.
Tags: Black Thai, Boston, Massachusetts, Megavox Recordings