Sigiriya, Return to Earth: Ex-Acrimony Members Get Terrestrial on Debut Album

The much-missed British stoner rock outfit Acrimony released their last studio full-length in 1996’s Tumuli Shroomaroom. Splits followed with Iron Rainbow and Church of Misery, and the Leaf Hound Records compilation Bong on – Live Long! followed in 2007, but the band effectively broke up in 2002, so the return of four out of the original five Acrimony members in the new band Sigiriya is welcome news for any worshiper of the riff, whether they were a fan of Acrimony or not. Only guitarist Lee Davies is missing from Sigiriya’s debut, Return to Earth, (released via The Church Within Records), but the remaining four-piece is no less cohesive for the lack of a second guitar. Because it’s essentially the same band, they’ll inevitably be compared to Acrimony, and on that level, Sigiriya boast a crunchier sound, less geared toward psychedelia or excursions in the stoner caravan of yore. Stuart O’Hara (who was also in Iron Monkey) leads the way with thickened riffs, and vocalist Dorian Walters rides the formidable grooves expertly on Return to Earth’s seven tracks, while bassist Paul “Mead” Bidmead and drummer Darren Ivey inject a surprisingly metallic feel to “Dark Fires” and “Robot Funeral,” marking a serious change in ethic from what one might have expected in an Acrimony offshoot.

But then, it has been nine years, and one expects that if the intent of O’Hara, Walters, Bidmead and Ivey had been to simply recapture Acrimony’s sound, they’d have just reunited under that name, rather than start a completely new band. Sigiriya is clearly meant to be its own entity, and it winds up being just that. Familiar elements show up, but tracks like “Whiskey Song” or the brazenly catchy opener “The Mountain Goat” have an appeal surprisingly distinct from anything Acrimony ever did. Walters’ voice has shifted in feel since back when, though he still has a gruff delivery, and O’Hara’s guitar is more self-assured, less uncertain in its tone. Where in listening to Acrimony’s debut, Hymns to the Stone (1994), one gets the sense that it’s a rock record with metal production, and is a little confused on that level (as one might expect since “stoner rock” was just getting underway as a genre) Return to Earth knows precisely where it wants to be at all times, and the band are comfortable in toying with expectation and adding flourishes to their material to make it distinct. The sound of the album is full and loud and between O’Hara’s guitar and Bidmead’s bass, the classic groove of “Robot Funeral” seems to build with each cycle through the start-stop verse riff, giving Walters plenty of room to complement with his vocals, and I hear very little in these songs that should disagree with stoner metallers at all. As heavy as it is, there’s no sacrifice of melody, as the raucous “Hurricaine” (sic) proves, and though Sigiriya are decidedly modern in their approach, their pedigree sets them up to be neither derivative nor redundant. To be blunt about it (pun totally Nintendo), Return to Earth kicks a fair amount of ass.

I’d hardly call it interstellar sonically, but 10-minute closer “Deathtrip to Eryri” is somewhat more psych in terms of both its lyrics and O’Hara’s guitar, which maintains some of the Iommian doom tonality but transposes it on a ‘90s-style revivalist progression. Bidmead’s bass, already prominent throughout Return to Earth, is thrust to the fore in the song’s midsection as a bed for the guitar lead, and with Ivey’s heavy snare and tom hits underscoring, there is a kind of trance induced, but it’s still more terrestrial in nature, and the apex is more adrenaline fueled than it is spaced out. “Deathtrip to Eryri” ends with noise and echoes into a long fade, and though Return to Earth is short at a little under 36 minutes, it bodes remarkably well for what’s to come from these four players, who, for all the time they’ve spent apart, have managed to come together around a coherent aesthetic with what sounds like comfort and ease.

So maybe it’s an injustice to call Sigiriya a “new band,” given the four-piece’s prior tenure with each other, but it’s nonetheless a successful parlay into a new direction, and since what’s most important of all is the songs, the album definitely delivers on that level. Whether it’s the more spacious vibe of the closer or the pickslide-laden rocking of earlier cut “Tobacco Sunrise,” Sigiriya’s Return to Earth is a riffer’s delight, and taking the record as a new beginning rather than just a reunion of the band members, it shows marked potential for future Sigiriya installments. No reason these guys shouldn’t be able to deliver riff-driven excellence going forward, since they’ve already proven they can do it once. Acrimony fans will dig these songs, but don’t go into the album expecting to hear an Acrimony clone. Those days are over. Long live Sigiriya.

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Doom Dealer/The Church Within

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