As far as lineup and recording info, thanks to mom and whoever else, Disastronaught, the self-released debut EP from London stoner rocking foursome Steak, arrives remarkably sparse. Instead, the space in the CD digipak where that might otherwise be contained is devoted to a narrative befitting the comic book-style artwork. I looked around for it somewhere online, and didn’t see it anywhere the band had made the album available, so I decided to reproduce it here in its entirety:
Decades of intergalactic war, invasion and civil unrest has left earth a baron [sic] wasteland and a haven for the galaxy’s undesirables, pirates, profiteers and murderers. The human race has been reduced to a labour commodity with most waiting to be sold into a life of despair, prostitution or hard labour. The lucky ones escape detection, dealing where they can to stay alive.
Just south of the Phoenix Mountains lies the typical new world city, where violence and murder are a daily way of life. Its name is Cyclone City. It is here, where through great adversity and courage, a band of brothers have united to make a fight back and take back what is rightfully theirs. The name of this group, this brotherhood, Steak.
The ruler of the territory is the evil slave baron, Lazarus. Rejected by his own race, this dark being made a new life on earth, profiteering on human despair. Along with his army of doom riders, Lazarus rules with an iron fist and takes great pleasure disposing of human evaders in a ferocious fashion.
Will these beer swilling, gun toting, filth slinging bad ass mothers be able to break this mighty war machine?
Welcome to the adventures of Steak.
Good fun. What the inclusion of this story – or intro piece or whatever you might want to call it – does is to set up the listener for an expectation of narrative in the songs. Perhaps doubly so since it’s the only bit of information aside from the tracklist that Steak include with the five-song disc. In reality, while they may or may not do their fair share of marauding, Steak is comprised of vocalist Kippa, bassist Cam, guitarist Reece and drummer Large, the latter two of whom were also instrumental in organizing this year’s London Desertfest, which Steak also played. (Their links as part of DesertScene were unknown to me when I got Disastronaught, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention it.) The EP is their first and has already been well received in both their native scene and beyond – and for good reason, as through the songs “The Butcher,” “Machine,” “Gore Whore,” “Fall of Lazarus” and “Peyote” there runs a clear and boldly conveyed love of heavy and stoner rock. Steak align themselves more with the European tradition of fuzz, a nod to Truckfighters comes in the bass-led intro to “Machine” and soon the space-echoing guitars and more subdued vibing draws a direct line to Dozer’s “TX-9” from Madre de Dios. Of course, a Kyuss influence pervades, and perhaps the single vocalist with whom Kippa has the most in common is Mike Cummings of Backwoods Payback (see “Fall of Lazarus” particularly), so there are some American-ish elements at work as well, but no influence on Disastronaught is abused, regardless of its geography. Rather, the tracks form a vision of Steak’s burgeoning creative process that finds them already strong as songwriters and capable of turning these formative pieces into something more distinctly the band’s own. Playing off strengths, instead of playing to them.
The EP is a short 21 minutes, but that’s more than enough time for Steak to leave a favorable impression of who they are and the desert-tinged atmosphere to their sound. Although the title “Fall of Lazarus” and the position of that track as the penultimate on Disastronaught would seem to indicate they do, I don’t know if the songs actually follow a plotted course either laid out in or building from the above-quoted foundation, but they’re musically engaging either way – a catchy track is a catchy track. Disastronaught has several, showing strong allegiance to stoner fuzz from the first feedback-introduced riff of “The Butcher,” taking a Fu Manchu-type upbeat groove into a more angular start-stop chorus in trad stoner fashion. Reece’s tone, and that of Cam as well, is warm and heavy but not overly so. Cam is able to kick into a thicker feel when it’s called for, but there’s a decent balance on Steak’s first outing between clarity and fuzz, “The Butcher” being more memorable as a song than as a tone. Its more frenetic driving riff might be traced to Queens of the Stone Age if one has to find a root for it, but the music and presentation are wholly different and the comparison feels moot. If that’s an influence Steak are working with – it might very well be – it’s so distilled through others as to come through largely unrecognizable. Speaking of Large, he works well with his ride cymbal on “Machine,” the longest track on the EP at just over six minutes, sticking to it even after the guitar “gets heavy” and running it like a thread through the early part of the track, which follows a build and payoff through two effective cycles without sounding repetitive more than it means to or losing its atmospheric sensibility when it trades off from one side or another. “Gore Whore” is shorter and more reminiscent of the opener, and if Steak are consciously trading off between straightforward and more ambient material on Disastronaught, they’re doing it well. Kippa delivers a convincing chorus for “Gore Whore” (she don’t love him no more, no more) and tops the driving finish with well-placed shouts.
Reece’s fuzziest guitar work arrives with “Fall of Lazarus,” which takes the straight-ahead riffing of the EP’s shorter cuts and works to set it against some of the heavy psychedelia that showed up on “Machine.” It does work, and like a lot of Disastronaught, that shows even more on repeat listens. The groove isn’t really landmark or all that original, but it’s well conveyed, and as ever, I’m down for a bit of stylistic indulgence — especially from a band self-releasing their first EP who’ve obviously put time, thought and effort into their presentation, as Steak have. The finale of their first collection, “Peyote,” is a little less than three minutes of interplay between psychedelic swirls and acoustic guitars, all instrumental, and it serves as a decent cap for the songs preceding while also hinting at the potential for more complexity of sound to come. If put to the narrative that may or may not have its starting point in the liner of the digipak, “Peyote” might be the moment at which our four heroes have vanquished the evil slave baron and repaired themselves to the desert to trip balls. I don’t know if that’s actually the intent behind the track, but I like it anyway, and I guess you could say the same for Disastronaught as a whole. Steak have some growing to do, make no mistake, but what they’ve established here is a solid core of songwriting and a clear love of the riff that’s going to carry them into their next outing – presumably a full-length debut, but maybe another EP or a split or something else – giving them a baseline from which to evolve. And if Disastronaught is to be a start, it’s an enticing one. Dig it if you dig the rock.
Tags: London, Steak, UK, Unsigned bands