They call it an EP, but the self-titled debut release from Rossville, Georgia, duo Alabama Church Fire tops 39 minutes, so it’s pretty much an album from where I sit. Let’s compromise on “demo.” That categorization may be up for debate, but what comes through much clearer is an rich affection for the tenets of Southern sludge. The seven-track affair makes an immediate show of its overarching tonal weight with “Smokevision,” a plodding riffer that sets guitarist/bassist/vocalist Chris Lamb and drummer/vocalist Jerry Wooldridge to work showing Stars ‘n’ Bars — turns out it’s both: history and racism! — and pot leaves in kind in an underproduced wash of stoner distortion.
What sets Alabama Church Fire‘s Alabama Church Fire apart, then? The creepy atmosphere that pervades. Recorded differently, I don’t know that there’d be much throughout the demo to distinguish the twosome from a lot of the post-Down II Southern riffers — certainly a cut like “Definifiniliate” draws on that influence — but as it stands, the muddiness in Lamb and Wooldridge‘s presentation gives the whole release a sense of malevolence even apart from its heaviness, so that the standalone guitar on “Trainsong” that Woodridge meets with far-back plod issues an indirect threat before it fades out about two-thirds of the way through the track, giving way to mournful and metallic guitar and bass contemplations upon return.
Covers of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Creedence Clearwater Revival close out, the former becoming a minimalist acoustic ballad and the latter slowing down and beefing up an already dark arrangement and stretching past nine and a half minutes as the longest track Alabama Church Fire have on offer. The multiple vocal layers — not sure if it’s Lamb and Wooldridge or just one of them recorded twice — bode well for future experiments the outfit might try, as does the meld of acoustic and hairy, distorted guitars, and if they can keep the buried-alive ambience they elicit here while continuing to develop these ideas, it’s easy to see them growing into something vicious down the line.
For now, the demo has its ups and downs, but gives some notion of where Alabama Church Fire might be headed. Check out the clip below for “Smokevision” to get a feel: