Wasted Theory, Death and Taxes: Sure Things

If Wasted Theory‘s intent in naming their self-released debut full-length Death and Taxes was to call to mind “sure things,” then they’ve chosen wisely. Accordingly, the eight-track, 34-minute stomper from the Southern-minded Delaware double-guitar foursome unpretentiously plays off any number of them, be it crunching heavy riffs, “whiskey-soaked” throaty vocals, lyrics about booze and cars, or classic stoner metal grooves. As Wasted Theory‘s first long-player, it builds on the steady momentum the band — comprised of guitarist/vocalist Larry Jackson, Jr., guitarist Dave McMahon, bassist Jonathan Charles and drummer/lyricist Brendan Burns (also the organizer of the Eye of the Stoned Goat festival series) — built over the course of the last couple years and two EPs, 2012’s Cinco Dechado de Cancion and 2013’s GodSpeed (discussed here), as well as a split with Jaw Horse to result in a cohesive outing based around familiar ideals. There are selections and sections where it feels like they’re playing more to expectation, particularly late on the album with the closing duo of “Tire Iron (The Stone Giant)” and “Black Widow Liquor Run,” but they never fail to engage with strongly constructed hooks and a clear-cut love of The Riff. I refuse to rag on a self-releasing band’s debut for delving into the cliché. That’s what debuts are for, and it’s to the credit of Wasted Theory that the professionalism of their production — Death and Taxes was engineered by Paul Janocha at Ken-Del Studios in Wilmington, DE — might draw out the expectation of a more established individual sensibility. Ultimately, there are parts of their game Wasted Theory are still figuring out and parts they very much have nailed down. The “be very heavy” is taken care of.

As is the songwriting. Front to back, Death and Taxes delivers on what the live-recorded GodSpeed promised, which was that Wasted Theory were well on their way toward crafting lasting heavy hooks that stayed with the listener after playback stopped. Across the board the album seems to work in pairs, and cuts like opener “Dead is Dead” and the ensuing shuffle of “Boogie on Pony Boy” immediately establish the band’s methodology without giving away the total stylistic range, nestling into the particularly American dudely burl that has emerged over the course of the last several years in the wake of DownC.O.C., Clutch, and particularly in Wasted Theory‘s case, Alabama Thunderpussy, whose earlier days seem to find a modern reinterpretation in Jackson‘s vocals. Retaining their penchant for nod-ready pacing, “Hellfire Ritual” and “Hexes” — which also appeared in that order on the Jaw Horse split — add in a less jammy take on some of Wo Fat‘s swampadelia, the latter standing out as a particularly strong ending to what would no doubt be the end of a vinyl side A before the vibe gets pushed even further on the feedback-intro’ed “Celestial Voodoo Lounge,” the only track on Death and Taxes to saunter past the five-minute mark. As side B should, “Celestial Voodoo Lounge” expands the sonic palette, with a more subdued verse and play of open parts off denser stretches, riffs at the fore either way. “Celestial Voodoo Lounge” is paired next to “Absinthe Queen,” the shortest of the bunch at 3:18, which strips the approach down to its barest parts and gives a no-frills showcase of the structures Wasted Theory are working with, verses and choruses intertwining smoothly before a guitar solo leads the way to the finish. It is both well executed and, by then, well expected.

And as alluded above, it’s in working around and toying with that expectation that Wasted Theory have most presented themselves an opportunity for creative growth. Death and Taxes has a crisp, pro-grade sound, their performances are tight and their songwriting is locked in. It is not, however an adventurous album, and with the quality of the work they do here, there’s no reason I wouldn’t expect their next outing to be. Rounding out, “Tire Iron (The Stone Giant)” and closer “Black Widow Liquor Run” dip respectively into rolling grooves and fervent riffy chug, and while accessibility isn’t necessarily a drawback, they ring familiar all the same. I’m not saying Wasted Theory need to or should want to reinvent the wheel or be SunnO))) when it comes to challenging their audience — I wouldn’t want to see them lose track of the craftsmanship they present on Death and Taxes, as it’s a major asset working in their favor — just that they’ve clearly got the modern, burly stoner vibe in hand, and that the process from here on out should be in refining that toward an individual take. Put in the context of the two EPs before it, Death and Taxes reads like a marker point along a progressive track, and its accomplishments as Wasted Theory‘s first album are not to be understated. It speaks to the potential of the band going forward and finds them proffering a righteous passion for the tenets of heavy rock and roll via an eight-part collection of impeccably balanced and engaging songs. It more than does the work a debut should in piquing the interest in what they’ll do next and how they’ll continue to build on its foundation moving ahead, and should find no trouble exciting fervor among the already converted, as Wasted Theory themselves seem to be embedded capital-‘h’ Heaviness with a devotion bordering on the religious. Mix that with the quality of construction found throughout Death and Taxes, and you’ve got one more sure thing.

Wasted Theory, Death and Taxes (2014)

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