Wo Fat / Egypt, Cyclopean Riffs Split LP: Hellhound in the Temple

Texas fuzz mavens Wo Fat and resurgent North Dakota riff rockers Egypt join forces on a new limited-to-500 split LP released via Totem Cat Records. Dubbed Cyclopean Riffs perhaps because the two bands see through one eye or as a play on the fact that the parts work in cycles, the 12″ smoke-colored splatter vinyl features two cuts from each trio. So, to go by the numbers it’s one eye, one release, two bands, two songs each, three members in each band. If you want to keep it going, there’s four songs total and each band has five letters in its name. To draw further correlation, each three-piece also recorded and mixed their own material, with Wo Fat guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump playing the role of engineer for the extended “Nameless Cults,” which starts off their side, and “Electric Hellhound,” while Egypt‘s own six-stringer, Neal Stein, helmed “Blood Temple Hymn” and “Ancient Enemy.” Both have done their own recordings before — Stump has grown into his own as a producer over the course of Wo Fat‘s four albums and Stein proved himself up to the task earlier this year on Egypt‘s comeback LP, Become the Sun (review here) — and with a little over 18 minutes apiece, both bands give a firm sense of where they’re coming from sonically while making a surprisingly good pairing for each other. It’s not necessarily a shock that two fuzzy, heavy rock bands would go together well — that happens all the time — but front to back, Cyclopean Riffs makes the most of a palpable stylistic kinship between Wo Fat and Egypt, its songs based around top quality riffing and classic jamming swagger.

There aren’t sides, per se, but Wo Fat are given top billing, and they launch Cyclopean Riffs with “Nameless Cults,” a song that plays into a similar kind of swamp-mystic thematic that has presented itself across their last two full-lengths, 2012’s The Black Code (review here) and 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here), while remaining consistent on a musical level as well. One thinks of 10-minute-plus jamming excursions like “The Shard of Leng” from last year’s outing or the title-track of the record before it and it seems Wo Fat‘s penchant for improv-style fuzz wandering has remained strong in the time since they put The Black Code to tape. They continue to hone a blend between that side of their approach and a knack for memorable choruses, as both “Nameless Cults” and the considerably less open-structured “Electric Hellhound” offer a hook worthy of their reputation, the former using a straightforward verse/chorus beginning as a springboard for an instrumental jam that holds sway for the entirety of the second half of the track — Stump taking leads here and there while bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter (also backing vocals) keep a sense of motion and build rolling along — while the latter works largely the same, only without the departure from its initial base structure. An increase in stomp from Walter and build throughout the song itself would make an extended jam almost redundant, not to mention the fact that they just did one and would run out of room on the side of an LP.

Egypt waste no time answering Wo Fat‘s with some hard-footed stomp of their own. Unsurprisingly, Stein‘s riffs lead the way, but the bass/vocal work of Aaron Esterby and the drumming of Chad Heille give “Blood Temple Hymn” a viscosity that’s not to be understated. It’s been easy to root for Egypt since MeteorCity tapped their initial self-titled demo for a 2009 CD release (review here), and considering the fluidity of “Blood Temple Hymn” and “Ancient Enemy,” there’s no reason not to. Like Wo Fat, they are stoner rock for those who know what to expect of the style, but between Esterby‘s raspy, far-off shouting echoes, and how well they blend their own jams into the structure of their songs, Egypt easily make their own mark on Cyclopean Riffs, both songs sounding natural in their rolling mid-paced groove and engaging enough that by the time “Blood Temple Hymn” gives way to “Ancient Enemy,” it’s easy to get lost in the push of the latter. “Ancient Enemy” is somewhat bluesier than its predecessor, and Esterby‘s bass leaves more of an impression from beneath Stein‘s classic-rocking solo in the first half, but more than anything else, the two cuts from the Fargo natives are consistent with each other. Both clock in at almost exactly nine minutes, and both ask little more of the listener than that they follow along with the easy nod that the songs enact, which is easy enough considering how well both “Ancient Enemy” and “Blood Temple Hymn” bask in their sway, right up to the fade that ends the second track and the record as a whole, leaving the listener with little room for thoughts more complex than, “Again.”

Generally when it comes to splits there’s an inclination to declare one band the winner. I’m not going to do that with Cyclopean Riffs. It’s not that the two bands in question don’t provide stellar material worthy of consideration in relationship to each other, but rather that the result of that consideration is that Wo Fat and Egypt work so well together that to say one “beats” the other would be moot. If they were working against each other, that would be one thing. But they’re not. Maybe it is one eye that the title Cyclopean Riffs is alluding to, and the trios are of a similar enough mindset to justify it. That’s one way of looking at it. Another is to just let it be what it is and appreciate the fact that these two groups were able to come together and work so well off each other that the dense wall of fuzz created sounds like a mantle bestowed first on the one, then the second. Groovy jams, heavy riffs, steady vibes and waves of distortion rolling out as far as the eye can see. All tone, no pretense. Just gotta dig the hell out of this one.

Egypt, “Blood Temple Hymn”

Wo Fat, “Nameless Cults”

Wo Fat on Thee Facebooks

Egypt on Thee Facebooks

Totem Cat Records

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