With a binding self-awareness and unashamed worship of the riff, young UK doom rockers Groan make their Doomanoid Records debut on The Sleeping Wizard. At 26 minutes, itâ€™s a record whose green and purple artwork is not misplaced, earning every bit of its psychedelic edge and pushing it through a screen of driving metallic riffs. More Sabbath than Sleep in their song structures, Groan make short work of neo-proto metal right away with â€śRide of the Antichrist,â€ť which revels in its use of clichĂ© in a manner that cheekier acts like The Sword never could. Itâ€™s not original, and it doesnâ€™t want to be, and I donâ€™t even think The Sleeping Wizard cares whether you call it an EP or a full-length (my voteâ€™s for full-length, whatever thatâ€™s worth), so long as you riff out. That part they make easy.
What The Sleeping Wizard lacks in revolutionizing, it more than makes up for in charm. The short, 2:52 cut â€śWitchy Woman,â€ť which follows â€śRide of the Antichristâ€ť stops in its middle to deliver its title line with such gusto that itâ€™s hard not to be sucked in. Likewise for the catchy â€śPsychedelic Demonsâ€ť or â€śThe Martyr King,â€ť which rocks like mid-period Cathedral and aspires to doing little more than that. Guitarist The Riff Wizard (fake names only add to the appeal) leads the way in unmired simplicity, often stumbling on the kinds of progressions that are head-slappingly obvious but still killer, and drummer Thorâ€™s Hammer (what else to call a drummer?) and bassist The Forest-Dwelling Fuzz Creature have no problem keeping up. The production of The Sleeping Wizard is raw and live-feeling, but not lacking clarity, and especially in Thorâ€™s Hammerâ€™s drum sound, is just crisp enough to give the album an underlying sense of professionalism. Clearly Groan arenâ€™t in danger of taking themselves too seriously, but neither are they just jerking around. Vocalist Mazzereth keeps his effects on for the duration, but is well balanced with the music behind him, his approach linking Groan to a lineage of British heavy psych that started well before anyone in this band was born.
So itâ€™s self-aware, itâ€™s riffing, itâ€™s rocking, and itâ€™s got just enough going on upstairs to be a fascinating listen. Centerpiece cut â€śDeadly Omensâ€ť â€“ coming on between â€śPsychedelic Demonsâ€ť and â€śThe Martyr Kingâ€ť â€“ is probably The Sleeping Wizardâ€™s doomingest moment. The pace slows and Thorâ€™s Hammer gives his cymbals a workout while The Riff Wizard keeps holy the Sabbath in pure stoner fashion. Thatâ€™s what Groan are, in essence: a stoner band, and unlike much of the generation of stoner rockers preceding them, I doubt very much theyâ€™d mind the designation. One does not riff in the manner of Groan without a love of the genre — the head-bopping up-tempo groove of â€śSleeping Wizardâ€ť being another firm example of their sonically weedian proclivities. Mazzereth, riding atop the groove like he was surfing it, leads us as we follow him following the riff, and as The Forest-Dwelling Fuzz Creatureâ€™s bass starts The Sleeping Wizard closer, â€śAncient Space (Master of Time),â€ť itâ€™s hard not to be reminded of earliest Orange Goblin, who seemed once to also delight in this kind of subspace chicanery (remember â€śThe Man Who Invented Time?â€ť). Not to say Groan are destined to grow into Orange Goblinâ€™s pattern of development or anything, but right now, itâ€™s clear theyâ€™re having fun with these songs. So am I.
If acts like Groan, Alunah and Trippy Wicked are going to mark the rising tide of British heavy/doom rock, Iâ€™m more than happy to get caught in the undertow. The Sleeping Wizard makes no bones about its love of stonerizing, and as these guys are really just getting started, itâ€™s hard not to be excited about their potential. Groan make an excellent and unpretentious debut here, doing right by themselves and by Doomanoid Records in keeping it simple and to the point, and one hopes they find room to develop within the sound theyâ€™re beginning to establish. Nod-worthy riffs, psychedelic vocals and enough groove to stretch 26 minutes into an hour, Groanâ€™s The Sleeping Wizard indulges little and pays off big. Lovers of the riff take note.
Tags: Doomanoid, Groan, UK