Moonbow, The End of Time: Along Came a Spider

You’ll find almost nothing out of place on Moonbow‘s debut LP, The End of Time. The seven-song full-length wraps up in a neat 31-minute package, is comprised of catchy, well-constructed individual pieces put together to maximize overarching linear flow, and even features a guest vocal spot from John Garcia of Vista Chino/Kyuss on centerpiece “Take it for Granted,” basking in desert soul and traditional stoner rock application. Front to back, The End of Time is neat, crisp, professional and it goes down with enough flavor to let you know it’s there, but at no point proves overbearing or pretentious. It is a rock album, for rockers, by rockers, and clearly the individuals who made it knew what they were doing when they put it to tape. You will not find jagged turns or sloppy explorations. You will find a nearly perfectly-rounded heavy rock genre piece. It knows what it is, it doesn’t want to be anything else, and so long as it’s entered into with an expectation of seeing a form executed rather than reinvented, it can have a lot to offer listeners. The Kentucky-based lineup of vocalist Matt Bischoff, guitarist David McElfresh (also Hank III), bassist Ryan McAllister (also of Ohio’s Valley of the Sun) and drummer Steve Earle (also Garcia‘s bandmate in Hermano) do not try to remake rock and roll in their image. With AC/DC stomp and bouts of Mos Generator melodicism — the closing duo “Saved” and “Black Widow” come to mind most readily — theirs is a sound friendly and familiar that asks few indulgences over the course of this first offering.

An immediate nod to dudely countrified roots arrives in the intro to the opening title-track, “End of Time,” dogwhistling a Southern rock influence that shows up again loosely in the Down-style riffing of “Fire Bath” and some of McElfresh‘s soloing across the album, but like everything on The End of Time, ultimately is in balance with the other elements at work, be it stoner fuzz or heavy rock groove. Were the songs not so well made, one might be tempted to call them generic, or at very least safe. Certainly the band seems to be staying within a kind of comfort zone sonically, but within that, they’ve been able to craft material of remarkable smoothness and accessibility, and that’s not by any means easy to do. Songs don’t stay with you because they beat you over the head with their ideas, but instead, a track like the suitably motoring “Journey of the Iron Horse” gradually infects and proves memorable for the sheer quality of its making. One encounters bands like this from time to time, who seem to come from an alternate universe’s FM radio programming. They offer classically-influenced songs geared not toward bite or revolution, but toward solid realization of an style that in our reality has been replaced by either the bad-time caricature masculinity in heavy metal or the bland vanilla of indie rock and punk. If it were politics, their music would be that rarest of creatures to be found in the American sphere: A true moderate. That’s a word too often used or thought of interchangeably with mediocre, and while it’s true that by their very nature, Moonbow aren’t about to reshape the aesthetic in which they reside, their songwriting proves well above par.

And if nothing else, it’s hard not be somewhat awed by the apparent ease with which Moonbow hit all their marks. Even taking into account the pedigree of the players involved — in addition to Hermano, Earle was also a member of Afghan Whigs — the most remarkable accomplishment of The End of Time is the ability of a song like the moodier “Octavia” to carry across ideas so recognizable without being directly attributable in its characteristics. Of course, the Garcia-infused”Take it for Granted” is a perfectly-placed change of pace, and Bischoff can’t seem to resist joining the legendary vocalist in a bit of crooning in the second half of the track on the way to a no-less-smooth fadeout. Unless these guys decide to go math-metal their next time out, there’s really nothing on The End of Time that would indicate that they won’t be able to keep going with this working formula other, perhaps, than schedules. And were they to take off on the road as a touring outfit, I don’t doubt that The End of Time could garner some wider attention. As it stands, it’s a high-grade collection of professionally done songs that doesn’t overstay its welcome and doesn’t force the music into places where it doesn’t seem to want to go. Whatever they might evolve into over time, they’re working from an obviously strong songwriting ethic that could be universally applicable, but even if they want to keep putting together engaging tracks in vinyl-ready bundles, that’s fine too. It’s not a landmark, but The End of Time should have no trouble finding footing among riff heads and beer guzzlers who feel underserved by the wider lack of heavy rock and roll.

Moonbow, The End of Time (2013)

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