It’s something of a surprise to see formidable Dallas riff-rocking trio Wo Fat release their third full-length album via Nasoni Records. Their last album, 2009’s excellent Psychedelonaut, was issued via Texas imprint Brainticket, and not that the new record, Noche del Chupacabra, doesn’t deserve the wider distribution that a release through Nasoni will get it, it’s just an odd fit. Nasoni, more known for releasing ethereal Euro-prog and the space-flavored psychedelia of Vibravoid and Sula Bassana, rarely touches anything this outwardly heavy (though they did release an Alunah 10”, so it’s not entirely unprecedented), but then, Wo Fat do seem to be branching out stylistically from the genre-based straightforwardness of Psychedelonaut and their 2007 debut, The Gathering Dark. Plus, it leads one to all kinds of speculation about future tour potential – i.e., maybe Wo Fat wanted better European distribution since they’re planning to go there – but that’s completely unsubstantiated, so I couldn’t say one way or the other. Whatever the case, if more people get exposed to Wo Fat and the Dallas scene in general as a result, that’s not going to be a bad thing, since along with the likes of Lo-Pan (now on Small Stone) and Black Pyramid (MeteorCity), Wo Fat have the potential to be forerunners of the next American generation of heavy rock.
That’s what comes through most about Wo Fat on Noche del Chupacabra. Three albums in and this five-track collection has the energy and creative feeling-outness of a debut. In a good way. It isn’t that Wo Fat – guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter – sound like they don’t know what they’re doing. Quite the opposite. They proved on several infectiously memorable songs from Psychedelonaut that they were more than capable songwriters with a strong grip on an intended (and achieved) aesthetic. With Noche del Chupacabra, they’re merely expanding that sound, refusing to get formulaic, challenging themselves. Comparing superficially Noche del Chupacabra with its predecessor, the newer release is some four tracks shorter and 45 minutes as opposed to nearly 72. Perhaps the trimming down was done to allow for the potential of a vinyl release, but there’s no getting around the difference. At the same time, the songs in general seem longer here. Opener “Bayou Juju” and “Descent into the Maelstrom,” which follows immediately, run 7:26 and 8:20, both times which were met and surpassed by the second album, but Wo Fat go beyond anything they’ve ever done with the epic 15-minute instrumental closing title track. The shortest cut on Noche del Chupacabra is third and centerpiece cut “Common Ground” at 6:41, and that might also be the most straightforward – Stump making the most of an excellent riff and the solo flourishes that truly do more to distinguish lead players from those who just follow the rhythm and are too rigidly within the song – but more importantly, when Wo Fat execute “Bayou Juju,” which on most records would be considered “extended,” it doesn’t feel long.
By that I mean it’s not that you’re left to wade through a five-minute ambient part or a purposeless extended jam. Stump takes his fair share of solos throughout Noche del Chupacabra, and maybe begins to lose his way before the five-minute mark on fourth cut “Phantasmagoria,” but there’s nothing gimmicky about the material, and nothing feels out of place within the context of Wo Fat’s songwriting; they just take their time to make sure the song does what it should. Though it’s generally Stump in the lead, Wilson and Walter also contribute much to the rampant success of Noche del Chupacabra, Wilson reviving the above-noted “Phantasmagoria” when he reins in the guitars and matches Stump move for move on one of the offering’s best interplays. And certainly on the first two tracks, which seem to echo the unflinching catchiness of Psychedelonaut even as they go beyond the approach, Walter’s transitional ease is a major factor in setting the groove. “Descent into the Maelstrom” has Noche del Chupacabra’s best chorus – ripe for an immediate song-along – but without the drummer’s backing vocals, it wouldn’t be half as effective as it is. “Bayou Juju” starts questionably but soon picks itself up and sets the standard high for what follows, giving a glimpse of the Scissorfight-style megaphone spoken backing vocals (and the riff too, I suppose) that made the difference on so many of that unfortunately defunct outfit’s songs.
When it comes to the closer – its massive, 15-minute sprawl led straight into by “Phantasmagoria” – it seems almost like Wo Fat are working with competing impulses. Extra percussion and spacier guitar speak to an uptick in the jammy feel, which is a switch from the crispness their songwriting generally has. That being one of their great strengths, I’m not sure how I feel about the trio dedicating a full third of their album to working directly against it… until about nine minutes in, when Stump’s guitar fuzz overdrives a solo before meeting once again with Wilson’s bass and Walter’s stomping drums and I realize that the 10 minutes in which I’ve just completely lost myself have been a gradual build and I’m now experiencing the payoff. Stump, who also recorded and mixed Noche del Chupacabra, leads the band through a slower, and soon, noisier, closing section, and I find I’m more than willing to buy what Wo Fat are selling in terms of their growth over the last two years. What they effectively do on the song “Noche del Chupacabra” is balance the heaviness of the prior four works (and two albums, if you want to extend it) with a gritty, almost definitively American, psychedelic range. I might have liked to have some vocals for an anchor somewhere throughout, but there’s no arguing that the experiment is a victory for Wo Fat and anyone willing to give Noche del Chupacabra the undivided attention the album is practically demanding. It was obvious after Psychedelonaut that these guys could be a serious factor in the future of US heavy, but Noche del Chupacabra is confirmation: Wo Fat have arrived, and that future is now.
Tags: Dallas, Nasoni, Texas, Wo Fat