On their first, self-titled, self-released full-length, the Albuquerque, New Mexico, trio Sandia Man skirt the line between desert rock and doom metal — they call it “caveman rock” — following the riff across six heavy tracks that owe equal allegiance to Clutch and The Obsessed. There isn’t much in terms of flair to the overall style, but Sandia Man nail down some surprisingly memorable songs, starting with a lengthy spoken word intro to “Skins of the Fathers” based on a Clive Barker short story of the same name. For first-time listeners, the first 1:40 of Sandia Man’s Sandia Man are probably going to be a stumbling block, but after a couple times through you get used to it. Guitarist/vocalist Alan Edmonds (he’s the skeleton with the cool hat and the guitar on the cover above) forces his voice caveman low for nearly the entirety of the album, so once you hear that, that he does it in the beginning too is going to seem like much less of a surprise.
As a trio, Sandia Man have a classic riff-heavy chemistry between them. Edmonds takes a few done-right solos throughout, but his playing isn’t showy, and bassist Steven “Sven” Esterly and drummer Jon Knutson have no trouble following his trail of smoke to the proverbial riff-filled land. Knutson and Edmonds formerly played together in the New Mexican incarnation of Devil Riding Shotgun (now based out of Portland, Oregon), so their ability to march lockstep should come as no surprise. The start-stop progression of “Skins of the Fathers” is just the first of several distinctly Clutch-esque elements, Edmonds’ vocals being a key contributor to that as well, but the chorus moves in a different direction and is catchy in a doomier way. Likewise, “The Crows” follows a similar pattern, the Wino influence showing through in the guitar. Esterly’s bass comes on thick throughout, but perhaps most so on second cut “The Crows,” which seems to be led more by its vibrating low end than even by the riff. When Edmonds takes his multi-layered solo especially, Esterly makes sure the song doesn’t lose its ground, and when the riff kicks back in for the faster closing movement, the change is all the more effective for the bass work.
The title-track, which appears fourth on the disc, proves more than worthy of the three-minute percussive intro “Trog Stomp” gives it. While “Trog Stomp” highlights a kind of Native American vibe that the band’s name and Albuquerque locale both also feed into, it’s “Sandia Man” itself that’s actually the highlight. The band’s best riff, best chorus and most irresistible groove come across all within the first two minutes of the song. Edmonds, his deep-voiced affectation in full force, sounds a bit like he’s announcing himself as a superhero when he delivers the title line in that chorus – he later slips into what sounds like his more natural range around the 4:45 mark – but that’s a big part of what makes the track so much fun, and the slowed-down shuffle Sandia Man pull off in the verses is high grade stoner rock. As the rightfully long bass intro to “Plaguewind/Endtime Endgame” (I’ll assume it’s the “Plaguewind” part) follows, “Sandia Man” proves to be encased by Knutson on one side and Esterly on the other. Worthy of the honor.
The 11:28 “Plaguewind/Endtime Endgame” is the longest of the songs on Sandia Man, and perhaps also the most complete atmospherically, thanks to the aforementioned Esterly solo. More than four and a half minutes pass before Knutson and Edmonds come in, and some different effects on the latter’s vocals push Sandia Man into new territory late in the album just where it needs to go. It’s a heavier, chunkier approach in the guitars, a darker riff than the playful “Sandia Man,” but also well pulled off, a near-thrashing closing section leading to a big rock finish that could probably just as easily have ended the record. That doesn’t mean “Volcan,” which follows and does the honors, feels extra or tacked onto the end, just that “Plaguewind/Endtime Endgame” offers powerful conclusion. “Volcan” takes the other approach, offering a couple bit hits and rung-out effects and amplifier hum to draw Sandia Man down, Esterly’s bass rumble with the last word.
Sandia Man’s debut, while not without its sonic kinks, shows the band on solid stylistic ground. The vocals are probably going to be too much for some, but in the end they’re one of the most memorable factors of the album, so I don’t know if I’d want to hear Edmonds change his approach too much. Rather, stage work should help him develop a style within what he’s trying to do vocally, and the payoff will come on subsequent Sandia Man releases. For now, the Sandia Man full-length offers nod-worthy riffs and a clear love on the band’s part for playing their burly brand of heavy rock. Their aspirations being far from commercial, the trio’s charm carries them well for the duration.
Tags: Albuquerque, New Mexico, Sandia Man, Unsigned bands