Though one usually tends to think of sludge as emanating or at least imitating the climate of the Southeastern part of the US – the unbearable summer heat and lung-collapsing humidity are an arguable impetus for the sound in themselves – its influence is far more widespread than its geography, and one of the more interesting upshots of that is hearing what players from different regions bring to the already established style. The single-guitar five-piece Godhunter, whose name is about as metal as it gets, make their home in Tucson, Arizona, and to follow suit, the sound of their self-released Wolves EP is bone dry. Sure, David Rodgers’ guitars are outfitted with stonerly distortion, but there’s something in the tone that comes off like it gets less than 10 inches of annual rainfall. As the five tracks progress, and particularly as a Down influence makes itself known on riffy closer “(Dead Hooker by the Side of) The Road,” that dryness becomes more consuming, and though Godhunter have done well to change the pace throughout – showing sludge’s punk/crossover roots on “Red State/Black Crusade” before dooming it up on “Powerbelly” – Wolves becomes more typified by its excursions into hardcore-style gang vocals, with Rodgers and guest vocalist Sean Raines joining in standalone-singer Charlie Touseull’s shouts on the 7:40 “Powerbelly” for a rousing, memorable chorus about black magic, black whiskey, evil women and bags of weed. The same tactic shows up on “The Road,” as well, and as that and “Powerbelly” are both near eight-minutes long, they seem written at a different time than the first three tracks, or at least working on a different line of inspiration, whether it’s the output of multiple songwriters or what. Neither song is out of place on Wolves, and the material is all the more cohesive because of the consistency of its production – which thins Ryan “Dick” Williamson’s bass some and less than ideally captures drummer Ryan Clark’s toms on opener “(Stop Being) Sheep,” but is steady in setting an overall context nonetheless – so maybe it’s just a case of burgeoning sonic diversity beginning to show itself.
Either way, the Wolves EP makes for a solid 32 minutes of sludge-based aggression, and whatever forms it’s working with, they generally arrive still well able to qualify as such. The vocals are mixed high from the start, though one gets the sense that Touseull wouldn’t have had any trouble cutting through the music surrounding anyway, but it’s a couple minutes into “(Stop Being) Sheep” before he comes on, and in that time, Godhunter set a steady build and enforce and underlying groove that shows some schooling in doom. The guitar runs a creepy line complemented by Williamson’s bass, and it’s not until more than halfway through that the verse begins with angry, metallic-sounding throaty shouts – not quite growls or screams, but not clean either for still being mostly decipherable. Musically, the momentum seems to really play itself out over the course of the last minute, but the anticipation for a payoff to that 5:49 build remains as Godhunter moves into “Wolves of the North.” Fortunately, the track wastes no time in providing a higher stake of energy, Touseull and Rodgers foreshadowing the gang chants to come with some back and forth in the verse and chorus. Both Williamson and Clark are given better treatment here, with the former filling out beneath a guitar lead with style and apparent ease as the drums make ready to renew the crashes and kick-thuds of the chorus. Matthew Davis is credited with keyboards in the liner, but if there are any on “Wolves of the North,” I must be missing them, and in the time since the EP’s late-2011 release, Davis seems to have been replaced by a guitarist named Jake, which is probably fair since there are multiple layers of guitar throughout Wolves and more distortion rarely hurts.
The centerpiece, “Red State/Black Crusade” (which begins its lyrics by incorporating Charlton Heston’s famous “cold dead hands” quote, later repeated) is also the shortest cut on the EP at 4:46, and while I’m not sure where the political allegiance driving the song actually lies, I also can’t help but think that’s probably the point. Better pay attention to the riff instead, as it seems to bridge the gap between the personalities of the first two and the last two tracks, stoner and Southern but still transitional to the shifts that take place on “Powerbelly” and “The Road.” And maybe those shifts aren’t drastic – they’re not genre-hopping by any stretch – but it’s enough to note on repeat listens to Wolves that Godhunter have more variety in their sound than it might at first seem. “Powerbelly” ends with a righteous slowdown – Touseull suitably roughs up his vocals – and grooves out its last minute-plus, setting up the start-stop intro of “(Dead Hooker by the Side of) The Road” and it’s more inherently Southern riffing. Again, I’m left feeling like the production isn’t doing the songs the best service it can, but it’s hard to hold that against a band getting their start. A call and response verse replaces the need for much of a first-movement chorus, and the ensuing structural nuance speaks well of what could be to come from the band. Cleaner vocals with a touch of drawl top a quiet break that opens up to slower, languid riff that seems like it’s going to close the EP until a more direct churn comes back in to offset the repetition of the line “I don’t want to see you drown/I just want to know you’re dead,” giving a final pulse of energy before reverting back to one last delivery of that same lyric before fading to silence. It has its rough patches, mostly related to the mix – vocals down, bass up, always – but Wolves gives a solid impression of what Godhunter have to offer at present and might morph into as they embark on their collective creative development (unless they decide to go polka, which would be entertaining), and for that delivers everything one could reasonably ask of it in showing Godhunter as a band to keep an eye on going forward. Considering its social media ubiquity, Godhunter are clearly making an effort to get it out there, and I find no argument with the cause’s worthwhile nature.
Tags: Arizona, Godhunter, Tucson, Unsigned bands