The Hidden Hand happened at a pretty interesting juncture for American heavy, just when underground riff-worship was really starting to get a foothold in a wider public consciousness beyond what it had been in the days before the widespread instant-gratification of the internet became a way to access just about anyone’s music anytime. Their second album, the stellar Mother Teacher Destroyer, certainly got some attention when it was issued by Southern Lord in 2004 — helped perhaps by the publicity of Dave Grohl‘s Probot project, released that same year, and Wino‘s visible involvement in that on guitar and vocals — but the preceding full-length debut, 2003’s Divine Propaganda, had no such high-profile lead-in. Not to shoehorn it into too convenient a narrative, but it was simply Wino‘s new band after Spirit Caravan broke up.
Listening back now, over a decade later and in light of the two albums The Hidden Hand released after it, Divine Propaganda is a standout if somewhat uneven release. Issued by MeteorCity, it was the first studio output from Wino, bassist/vocalist Bruce Falkinburg and drummer Dave Hennessy, and it introduced a lot of the Illuminati/conspiracy/socio-political framework in which a good portion of the band’s lyrics would work for the duration of their tenure, but thanks in no small part to the Weinrich/Falkinburg collaboration in the songwriting, it also pushed into territory that was neither The Obsessed-style doom nor the freewheeling heavy rock of Spirit Caravan. There was something else going on, and that’s evident on Divine Propaganda, even if the trio were still figuring out what they wanted their sound to be and what shape that collaboration would take.
In all honesty, “The Last Tree” — track seven of the record’s total 10 — probably could’ve been a Spirit Caravan song with its rolling groove of a chorus riff, but as the verse shows, The Hidden Hand were already becoming something distinct, and the fuzz that Falkinburg puts on his bass in the track is not to be missed. It’s something of a forgotten gem from the largely underappreciated band, whose timing and whose songwriting continue to intrigue.
Happy Wino Wednesday: