[Click play above to hear the premiere of the title-track from Curse the Son’s Isolator. Album out March 18 on Snake Charmer Coalition CD, with LP to follow on STB Records.]
Since making their debut in 2011 with Klonopain (review here), tone has been a big part of Curse the Son‘s game. Led by guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, the Hamden, Connecticut, trio has swapped out its rhythm section since then, first introducing drummer Michael Petrucci (also Lord Fowl) on 2012’s follow-up, Psychache (review here), which was independently released at first and picked up for vinyl (review here) through New Jersey’s esteemed STB Records in 2014. That record was and remains a gem of rolled-groove righteousness, Vanacore, Petrucci and then-bassist Richard “Cheech” Weeden proffering lumbering Sabbathian vibes grown out from the debut and marked by particularly strong songwriting. Not necessarily trying to do too much, but hitting a fine balance between the aforementioned tone and execution. The outfit’s third offering (some earlier work notwithstanding), is Isolator.
Recorded at Dirt Floor in Chester, CT, it marks their first CD release through Delaware’s Snake Charmer Coalition — STB will follow-up with an LP version — and serves as the studio debut of bassist Brendan Keefe, who complements and bolsters Vanacore‘s guitar work strongly on the seven-track/40-minute full-length. Indeed, while I won’t take away from the progression in Vanacore‘s self-harmonizing vocal approach as evidenced on songs like “Gaslighter,” the semi-title-track “Aislamiento” or swinging closer “Side Effects May Include…” (nor from Weeden‘s prior work), Keefe‘s contributions prove essential to making Isolator the forward step that it is for the band. They are a richer, all the more immersive and soulful outfit than they were just several years ago.
Many of the core touchstones remain unchanged in terms of their influences. Black Sabbath, Sleep and so on continue to resonate in Vanacore‘s thick riffing, but there’s a new edge as well in the vocals that’s especially engaging in light of Goatsnake‘s Black Age Blues. Not that they’re going for the same thing — no backup singers appear here, for example — but as the opening title-track unfolds from its languid start, its hook arrives in harmonized form and is an immediate standout and signal of intent. Likewise, the tempo of “Isolator” itself is rife with upbeat thrust in Petrucci‘s crash, its riffs in the first half being shoved along quickly such that I’d almost be tempted to call it boogie if it weren’t so darn thick. They break back to the quieter lines of the intro in the midsection and revive the chorus to set up a nodding bridge and final swing through the verse and chorus again to end, Keefe‘s bass staking its claim as well in the start of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the slower pace of which opens up to massive tom hits from Petrucci and call and response vocal layering from Vanacore.
For those harmonies, “Callous Unemotional Traits” is a highlight of Isolator, but it also speaks to the emotional struggle that seems to be a running lyrical theme throughout cuts like “Aislamiento,” “Isolator,” “Sleepwalker Wakes,” “Hull Crush Depth,” “Gaslighter” and “Side Effects May Include…” — which, if you’re keeping track, is all the songs. So maybe it’s a strong running theme. Fair enough. “Callous Unemotional Traits” nods out a downer finish underpinned by stomping tom work and Keefe‘s dense low end, leading to the gargantuan lumber of “Sleepwalker Wakes.” A subdued, echoing verse fosters a deceptively catchy melody, but again, it’s the harmonies of the chorus, “Alone/Alone/Leave me alone” that really make it. The second half of the track turns on drum fills to a last verse, but instead of going back to the hook, as on “Isolator,” they instead ride that plodding groove into the wah-drenched intro of “Hull Crush Depth,” on which Keefe takes the lead on bass, the verses populated by steady drums, Vanacore‘s vocals and sparse guitar noise before the fuzz kicks back in, builds, and ultimately recedes for a swap in vibe that, as the centerpiece, only further emphasizes how far Curse the Son have come.
Starting with the drums, “Gaslighter” works similarly to some degree, Vanacore shifting to a lower register vocal and moving forward in the mix. There are also some ambient sounds worked later on that are either keys or falsetto singing, but even bringing the verses and chorus forward marks a change in intent. “Gaslighter” is the shortest track here at 4:24, but leaves an impression in its later blend of swing and chug, in its fluid transitions and in its lyrics. It gives way to “Aislamiento” — the longest track at 7:13 — the Spanish title of which translates to “isolation,” and which unfolds a viscous, patient intro and nears the two-minute mark before it hits into the first verse, Keefe‘s bassline keeping the roll moving forward as Vanacore‘s guitar wahs out, coming back to full tone for the fluid shift into the chorus. The flow is smooth as they cycle through again and the bass drops out to let the guitar and drums creep and give Petrucci a chance for some Bill Ward-style jazzy tension-keeping.
Bass and full-fuzz guitar return as Petrucci keeps the vibe going, and riffs build in intensity accordingly, nodding back to the chorus without actually delivering it and pushing outward on a few last lines from Vanacore before crashing to an end, the first half of a closing duo with “Side Effects May Include…,” which bookends some of the Goatsnake stylization of “Isolator” and also revives the multi-layered vocals, an open, almost Alice in Chains-y verse kicking in after thudding toms. They chug and roll through one last hook and at around 4:30 on a Keefe bassline, they turn to a more swinging last movement. Keefe takes a welcome solo that comes through from under the guitar, but Curse the Son finish crashing as a full trio and in fine form, someone noting after the amps click off that, “That’s fucking ridiculous,” only to be answered, “That’s fucking rock and roll, right there.” You will not hear me argue. For at least the last half-decade, and actually longer, Curse the Son have been a too-well-kept secret holed up on the line between heavy fuzz and doom. Isolator, as their strongest offering to-date, not only lives up to the standard of Psychache, but surpasses it, and can only hope to turn heads in the band’s direction. It may not be genre reinvention, but the way Curse the Son reform stylistic tenets to their purposes throughout Isolator is what allows the album to truly stand alone.Connecticut, Curse the Son, Curse the Son Isolator, Hamden, Isolator, Snake Charmer Coalition, STB Records