[Click play above to stream ‘Key and Bone’ from Heavy Temple’s debut album, Chassit, out on tape Nov. 19 via Tridroid Records with preorders starting Oct. 3.]
Checking in at four tracks/28 minutes, I felt compelled to ask Heavy Temple whether their new release, Chassit, which is out in November on tape through Tridroid Records with other formats to follow, is a second EP or, in fact, their debut album. 28 minutes is short for a full-length — lest we forget that 30 years ago, Slayer pulled off Reign in Blood in that time — but part of the reason I thought I should ask was because of the flow the Philadelphia three-piece set up between their included tracks: “Key and Bone,” “Ursa Machina,” “Pink Glass” and “In the Court of the Bastard King.” The answer? An album, and I think that’s fair enough.
Since the release of their Ván Records self-titled EP (review here) in 2014 — the same year they formed — bassist/vocalist High Priestess Nighthawk has changed the band’s configuration entirely, and while bringing aboard drummer Siren Tempestas and guitarist Archbishop Barghest no doubt has affected the overall sound, lineup alone simply can’t account for the cohesion of aesthetic that has emerged in what they do. There’s legitimate growth here, and as Heavy Temple cast off some of the trappings of cult rock over time — others hold firm — what they’re finding is an individual presence and style between harder-edged fuzz, classic stoner swing, and more ethereal impulses. Principally though, their material hits with a firm sense of purpose on Chassit in a way that Heavy Temple had not yet found.
That’s not to trivialize the contributions of Tempestas — who rolls out a monster groove on “Ursa Machina” and is the foundation of the aforementioned swing, played with admirable vitality — or the tone of Barghest, which becomes a defining element here from the start of “Key and Bone” onward, rather to say that in the context of the first release, Chassit shows growth from Heavy Temple as a whole and not just because it’s different players making up the band.
It’s well worth noting that over the last couple years I’ve become a fan of their work, so that’s the perspective from which I’m writing — I invited them to play The Obelisk All-Dayer this past August because of that — but as much as the first EP turned heads in their direction, Chassit seems primed to take that a step further, and considering it as their debut full-length, the progression it establishes as already being in progress is both exciting for its future prospects and in its current execution, the shorter, catchier, punchier “Key and Bone” with its riotous thrust setting up the longer cuts that follow in “Ursa Machina,” a more patient push with stops culled from classic blues but hammered in feedback and spacious, leading to a fuzzed-out, you-are-here moment of arrival in the last two minutes, fluid and righteously heavy and full in its sound without any sense of being tentative about where it’s headed.
Confident. Assured. Powerful. These aren’t things one would necessarily expect from a band making their debut, or even one putting together a second EP to demonstrate their wares — and depending on what Heavy Temple does next, Chassit might indeed wind up being their second EP — but by the time they’re two verses into “Key and Bone,” it’s clear they’ve thrown the subgenre rulebook out the window and worked to become their own band.
This shift in approach only continues to suit them as “Ursa Machina” bleeds into the start of “Pink Glass.” As both tracks top eight minutes, they make up a significant portion of Chassit‘s total runtime, and it’s probably fair to call them the “meat” of the record, which is all the better for the blend of hooks and atmosphere they convey. Similar to the cut before, “Pink Glass” saves its largesse for the second half, but its beginning is perfectly paced in not rushing but still upbeat, with a catchy bounce in its chorus that sets up the latter portion, to which the transition begins at around the 3:30 mark as they work their way out of the last chorus.
Bass takes over complemented by sparse guitar, and for the next three and a half minutes, Heavy Temple show a quiet, patient side they haven’t yet displayed as they subtly build their way toward “Pink Glass”‘ explosive finish, an apex groove that builds its tempo smoothly as it arises and pays off the album as a whole as much as the song itself. Vocals return and soar in an ending chorus further marked out by an added layer of lead guitar — just a second or two of flash, but skillfully arranged — before the whole thing collapses into feedback and the start-stop beginning of “In the Court of the Bastard King.” Somewhat shorter at 6:03, the closer also pushes pretty far out, but in a different way, playing between an overarching thrust and hard-funk shuffle as it moves through its verses and layered chorus before departing the stomp in which it winds up via transitional tom work toward an ending wash of psychedelic noise.
There’s no coming all the way back this time, and having done so to such satisfying effect only one song prior, that makes the structure of “In the Court of the Bastard King” that much more engaging in how it ends the record. The underlying rhythm holds as the guitar freaks itself out and they do turn around to the central progression of the track in the last second or two, but by then the context has changed considerably, which is a further testament to their craft.
Part of the excitement of any impressive debut — or any impressive album at all, really — is imagining where the band’s creative growth might lead them in the years to come. To say as a fan already of their work that Heavy Temple exhibit significant potential to become something special on Chassit feels like underselling it, because to my ears, that moment is already happening here. Nonetheless, while they’ve set a high standard with these songs, I hear nothing in them to make me think Heavy Temple won’t keep growing and pushing forward from the elements presented here, and that their multifaceted but sonically consistent style will do anything other than continue to flourish. Here’s hoping.