It’s been about a year and a half since Connecticut stoner doom trio Curse the Son released their first album, and clearly in that time, they’ve been through some changes. That full-length, Klonopain (review here) was a charmingly druggy exercise in riff-led doom, more engaging tonally than in terms of the songwriting, but still a solid showing from a band getting their feet. The upcoming self-released sophomore outing, Psychache, outclasses the debut on every level. I’ll reiterate because it’s worth reiterating that I enjoyed Klonopain a lot – I broke it out recently in advance of the band’s performance at Stoner Hands of Doom XII and found it had held up pretty well – but with Psychache, Curse the Son push themselves further creatively, performance-wise, production-wise and in terms of their songwriting. A notable change is the swapping out of drummer Charles Nicholas for Mike Petrucci (also of Vestal Claret, King of Salem and a percussionist for the touring incarnation of the Blue Man Group), who brings a crisp sense of professionalism that rests well in the pocket with bassist Cheech and guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore (both formerly of Sufferghost), while still also showing a subtle bit of technicality in complex fills and varied timekeeping. Petrucci is no stranger to plod, and in the lumbering riff in the post-chorus bridge of early highlight cut “Spider Stole the Weed,” the drums do more than just highlight the groove – there’s an active drive there – all three members of the band not so much following the riff as pushing it forward. Might be a subtle difference, but it goes a long way, and Vanacore’s vocals have also developed in confidence and range, so all around, Curse the Son emerge through these six tracks/31 minutes as a more mature, professional act. They remain very much of their genre – that is, Psychache is without a doubt a stoner doom album – but the band seems not only to acknowledge this, but to embrace it in a way that few of their peers are willing to do. For that, for Vanacore’s tone, and for the memorable choruses that work their way into several of these songs, Psychache is a brief but potent excursion that leaves its own footprints in well trod sonic paths.
About Vanacore’s tone: Partnered up with Connecticut’s Dunwich Amplifiers, the guitarist gets deep, Sunn-esque low end specifically crafted for the kind of music he’s playing. With Matamp-style richness, the riffs are carried across full in their sound. The production is clearly a step up from that of Klonopain, but it’s still comparatively rough. Nonetheless, the guitar dominates and the songs are all the more dynamic for it. Whether it’s the straight-ahead riff and thud of “Spider Stole the Weed” or the creepy beginning of opener “Goodbye Henry Anslinger,” they remain natural while also holding firm to a modern clarity. That stays true as “Goodbye Henry Anslinger” gets underway with an instrumental introduction that comprises the better part of its first two minutes in establishing the riff before Vanacore’s well-layered vocals kick in. A sense of next-levelism is palpable. In “Goodbye Henry Anslinger,” the riff is a hook, the verse is a hook and the chorus is a hook, and though the track is over six minutes long, it remains catchy for the duration and accessible, showing growth in Curse the Son’s songwriting to match their presentation. The lines “Feels like a revolution/It comes from underground” serve as a memorable chorus and are delivered with classically doomed inflection in a vast echo that’s all the more appropriate for the hugeness of the guitar and Cheech’s bass. Structurally, it’s a basic verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus once the vocals kick in, but the psychedelia worked into the break following the first chorus gives the album an immediately varied base to work from, offsetting the riffly chug while Petrucci works a little funk out of the following verse on the bell of his ride cymbal. It’s a strong opening, and the momentum continues with “Spider Stole the Weed,” which boasts another commanding plod and some forceful use of wah in the guitar and bass prior to stopping at around 2:30 and restarting with a faster, more active pulse.
Here as well, Petrucci shines, taking the mid-paced riff and setting it to a march of ghost-snare hits as Vanacore’s melody follows the guitar line in stonerly tradition. Cheech’s bass fills as the verse of “Spider Stole the Weed” opens up to the chorus are also not to be forgotten. All through, there’s a sensibility of consciousness – of nothing happening by mistake – and even when Petrucci slips on a fill and hits his crash early at the 1:33 mark during the following title-track, the fact that Curse the Son left it in there feels like it was on purpose. “Psychache” lives up to its clever wordplay, opening launching with a quiet but nonetheless immediate before kicking full-force into an uptempo groove that, once again, the whole band rides with thickened classic stoner rock aplomb. It’s probably too tonally thick to be considered a shuffle, but the song nods in that direction nonetheless, instrumental for the duration and based around a riff memorable enough so as to stand on its own without accompanying vocals. There’s more construction to it than a jam might otherwise have, but that feel is there nonetheless as the trio show off the raw joy of locking into a riff and hammering it home. At 4:47, “Psychache” continues a stepping down in runtime – the opener was 6:21 and “Spider Stole the Weed” a no-less-efficient 5:50 – but the album’s shortest track is still to come with the interlude, “Valium For?,” which follows and clocks in at 1:11, fading up a horror-movie groove and what sounds like effects-laden child cries, gradually rising to a swirl and then fading back out. Ultimately it’s inoffensive, but my only issue with it is the placement and whether or not, having just come out of an instrumental, the momentum of Psychache wouldn’t have been better served to put “Somatizer,” the fifth cut, before “Valium For?” and used the latter then to set up the closer, “The Negative Ion.” That way, “Psychache” still acts as a break from the structural similarities of the first two songs, but the flow of the album is maintained as “Somatizer” picks back up with a slightly shifted verse/chorus approach and the closer – already the longest cut on the album at 7:22 – is granted even more special position for the lead-in it gets. I’d hardly call it a misstep, but even the break in “Somatizer” where it basically just cuts to minimal guitar noise before resuming the classic Pentagram-style verse (note Cheech’s bass work in the chorus as well; pure trad doom) would seem to set up a context of weirdness that would be better followed by “Valium For?” than led-in by it.
Unless you’re going to sit and purposefully parse through the tracks – as I apparently am – it’s probably not enough to upset the balance. The shift to a doomier style in “Somatizer” is well done anyway and if one out of Psychache’s 31 minutes feels misplaced, I’m not going to worry about it. Curse the Son were right anyway in allowing for a breather, and “Somatizer”’s noisy, ambient finish might not have worked giving way to “Valium For?” as well as it does leading into the finale of “The Negative Ion,” which opens quietly with “Planet Caravan”-style space exploration. Cheech’s bassline subtly sets the context for the track as a whole and when Vanacore’s guitar and Petrucci’s drums join in at around the two-minute mark, it’s not exactly unanticipated – they’d almost have to come in sooner or later or the song might simply drift away on the sleepy lullaby of the bass and Vanacore’s soft vocal – but righteous nonetheless, the riff already familiar the first time it’s played. Plodding, fuzzed and thoroughly grooved, “The Negative Ion” might be Curse the Son’s best blend of the stoner and the doom, the lyrics counting out etherealities in the verse before the chorus takes the song to a cosmic kind of crush. I’m sure it’s a coincidence that at 4:20, the song drops to swirling fuzz and spoken vocals echoing, panning and fading away to introduce a wah-drenched build leading back into the verse, pushing heavier and heavier until finally dropping back to the original softer vocal and bass ritualizing before the last line of the album – “…As we walk away” – leads the path out. In this, too, the band are strikingly self-aware, but confident enough not to be held back by their self-awareness where others might. Psychache, like Klonopain before it, is an exciting listen on its own, but along with that, it shows remarkable potential for what Curse the Son might do going forward. With the lineup of Vanacore, Cheech and Petrucci wearing their love and appreciation for fuzz-loaded heavy on their collective sleeve and balancing that on a core of skillful songcraft, they have the opportunity to grow into something really special in the genre. With Psychache, they’re on their way.
Tags: Connecticut, Curse the Son, Curse the Son Psychache, doom metal, Psychache, stoner rock, Unsigned bands