A self-released, full jewel case, four-track/36-minute full-length with tonal burl, a simple but effective songwriting modus, drum sound hijacked right from garage rock and the title 1974 – I’m having a harder time coming up with an argument against near-Portland, Oregon’s Doomsower’s first LP than arguments for it. The impulse is not to try. Yeah, the trio of Justin (vocals/guitar), Levi (bass/vocals) and Matt (drums) have some pretty rough production on 1974, and if we’re going by Deep Purple and Sabbath albums alone, 1971 was unquestionably a better year, but the rawness of the recording – which was put to one-inch tape at the hands of engineer Rick Duncan – adds to the charm and the front cover (also appearing as a foldout in the CD liner) and the back cover photo come from an EPA photo project that took place in ’74, so everything works in the context of the record as a whole, most especially the main riff of closer “Stone,” which comes right out of the Steppenwolf, “Born to be Wild” playbook. That track and opener “El Camino Real” both appeared in shorter versions on Doomsower’s 2011 Earth Demo, and “Beam Machine” – the third and shortest cut on 1974 at 6:44 – was released as a digital single with a Weedeater cover “Time Served” (from Sixteen Tons) as the B-side earlier in 2012. That leaves the 10:54 “Mistress of Frost/Judgement” (sic) as the only track making its first appearance on 1974 – though “Stone” was previously called “Stone Pussy” – though it matters little, as all the material is relatively recent and the band creates a full-album flow without being hindered by unintentional choppiness in either the writing or the recording, beginning with opener “El Camino Real,” which opens with a mission statement of a bassline from Levi and moves shortly to insistent and well-fuzzed groove that sets the tone for much of 1974’s blend of classic doom, heavy rock riffing and a punk-born carefree mindset that contributes greatly to the laid back feel the album conveys despite being righteously heavy and at times, abrasive.
One of those times, as it happens, comes toward the end of “El Camino Real,” when screams back Justin’s early-The Obsessed-style vocals in the last round of the chorus, “One day’s ride/El Camino Real/The path to heaven/Only leads to hell.” Prior to that, there was little in Justin’s wah’ed glory and ultra-fuzzed leads that hinted at a bent toward the extreme. It’s not out of place, but it doesn’t happen again on 1974 and it’s a little bit like Doomsower fired the gun in their first act. I’d call it a sequencing issue, but “El Camino Real” works where it is on the album and Justin’s cleaner vocals hold sway for the vast majority of the time, as does his guitar, which leads through an improvised-feeling solo past the midsection, leaving Matt to provide the subtly adept changes behind, driving the band headfirst into a slamming groove before breaking and punctuating the swirling fuzz rumble before the vocals kick back in at 6:42. Lyrically, the song deals with the clash between native peoples and Spanish colonialists in California, so the last-minute anger works in terms of the historical narrative, it’s just surprising. To compare, “Mistress of Frost/Judgement” is relatively minimal, beginning with bass, guitar and vocals only – no drums – and setting a more downtrodden mood immediately, personal with lines about the speaker in the lyrics having his heart stepped on and so forth. Levi and Justin are through two verse/chorus cycles (perhaps that’s the “Mistress of Frost” portion of the song) before the drums kick in and the pace kicks up, but the effect is engaging in a kind of raw early-‘80s woman-done-me-wrong metallicism. Wah takes them through a rough-hewn psychedelia, but even when it slows, the song has less patience and more emotional intensity than a designation like psych might convey – though Justin’s lead just before the halfway mark has sufficient buzzsaw to it to make it still applicable, and backing organ gives a spooky feel as Doomsower bring up a wash with about four minutes still to go. They emerge from the mini-melee with a potent stoner rock groove, familiar but wholly unpretentious, and ride its fuzz through a lead section and the gradual deconstruction of the song, the layers of effects on the guitar held to a strong foundation by Levi and Matt’s playing so that when Justin goes back to the riff in the last 15 seconds, the guitar has a place to land.
Where on the single it began with a sample from the film The Car – which was made in 1977, four years after 1974, so it stands to reason why they didn’t use it; it didn’t exist yet – here “Beam Machine” begins with a minute-plus of subdued, echoing guitar, doomy but atmospherically weighted rather than sonically crushing. Don’t worry, that’s coming. At one minute into the song’s total 6:44, Doomsower burst into punk-stoner shuffle that seems to work in spite of the thickness in the guitar and bass, swaggering their way through the duration and breaking to an even meatier, slower guitar build topped by a repetitively intoned, “I hate you” that leads to a solo and a Dave Chandler-style noisefest before, about 4:45 in, individual crashes gradually begin to introduce the stomp that seems like it will comprise the outro until with less than a minute to go, the band launch once more into the verse and end cold coming out of that. It might be awkward but for the fact that “Stone” begins with a minute (again, exactly one minute) of cymbal washes and mounting rumble before taking off on its own progression. Yeah, the Steppenwolf riff is pretty unmistakable, but after calling their record 1974, Doomsower seem to be well within their rights hitting up a biker classic or two. They break before three minutes in to quieter, bass-heavy verse that finds Matt layering in extra percussion, but the fuzz is never far and the thrust is soon revived, if only momentary. The next tradeoff brings back the quiet verse, and from there, they embark on the closing jam, all heavy rock bombast and brash musical arrogance. Justin’s guitar is at the fore, but it would be directionless without Matt and Levi beneath it, holding down the groove in classic power trio fashion. They jam back into the Steppenwolf riff and out again, capping 1974 with tight single hits, effective feedback and a final punch, making for a suitably ballsy ending to an album that wants nothing for dudely throb. If you haven’t yet encountered Doomsower – the album marks my first experience with them as well – 1974 will most likely leave a favorable impression, its identity carved out of recognizable elements put to memorable use with tones that straddle a line between raw and lush, sounding natural even as they emit an impossible-seeming barrage. If Doomsower use it to grow from, they should have no problem leaving a mark on Portland’s expansive, crowded scene.
Tags: 1974, Doomsower, Doomsower 1974, Oregon, Portland, Unsigned bands