When it comes to 12th Records, it’s a safe bet that whatever else you’re going to get, the disc is going to have massive tone. The label is the imprint of Electric Amplifiers, which, unsurprisingly, the bands it puts out are using. 12th Records doesn’t issue discs often, but the label has been home to debuts and landmark albums from High on Fire, YOB, Ocean Chief and Starchild, among others, so when they get behind something, it’s worth paying attention. In the case of the Sardinian outfit Black Capricorn, that’s no less true than it’s ever been. Their 2011 self-titled debut keeps with the label’s tradition of engulfing fuzz – rhythm guitarist/vocalist Fabrizio “Kjxu” Monni’s riffs are given front-and-center attention in the band’s sound, and rightly so. On some levels, Black Capricorn is preaching to the converted here, but if it’s going to be stoner rock for stoner rock’s sake, I’m not going to hold it against the groove of “Il Tamburo del Demonio,” which seems to split the band’s attention between worship of the cosmos and worship of the capital-g Goat. Whatever they’re doing thematically, though, it’s the lurching tonal thickness and warmth that’s going to lure you in and keep you for the record’s 46-minute duration, and Black Capricorn – who’ve since added Il Baro on vocals/synth and a full-time lead guitarist in Andrea “Lord Fex” Cadeddu – make the most of it here.
Black Capricorn’s Black Capricorn was recorded in 2009, and Lord Fex does appear on guitar alongside Kxju on the closing duo of “The Maelmhaedhoc O’Morgair Prophecy” and “Liquid Universe,” but he’s credited as a guest musician, as is Claudio Monni (relation to Kxju assumed), who plays on the rest of the songs. The actual lineup is listed as Kxju, bassist Virginia and drummer Rachela, and if the distinction is that the trio recorded live and the other parts were added later, not knowing whether that’s the case or not, I’d believe it, given the natural flow of the material on the album. It is unpretentious in its awareness of genre and style to the point that the sample use on “Capricorn One” – taking its name from the 1978 sci-fi thriller – is more charming than redundant, and that from the opening riff that begins “Sa Bruxia,” Black Capricorn seem less concerned with innovation than exploration of nuance. That is to say, their debut doesn’t do much to reinvent the style of psychedelic stoner rock, but it develops a personality within it and makes the aesthetic conventions work to its advantage, at least for the most part. “Sa Bruxia” features the first of many excellent nod-ready grooves to come, and the integration of Claudio Monni’s lead work is fluid, sounding not at all out of place with the lumbering riffs surrounding.
For the most part, Kxju keeps his vocals to far-back echoes, and that works well in enhancing the album’s psychedelic feel, but on “Capricorn One,” he switches to a gruff, blown-out approach that does well to offer change from the first two tracks – “Perpetual Eclipse” being the second and keeping much the same vibe as the opener, with an added didgeridoo intro from Kxju. That switch is subtle compared to the overall effect of Black Capricorn, which is as though someone was shouting, “Follow that giant riff!” but with the more upbeat instrumental and desert-ed “Il Tamburo del Demonio” following, it has time to sink in before the album highlight “10,000 Tons of Lava” takes hold and blends the two processes. Virginia’s bass, which has warmth to match Kxju’s, should already have been noted as an element working greatly in Black Capricorn’s favor throughout the record, but on “10,000 Tons of Lava,” the contribution is undeniable. Accompanied by the strongest vocal performance here-included and rumbling low beneath a momentary break, it is the stuff of stoner rock dreams and immaculately put to tape. As Kxju’s effects swirl out into interstellar oblivion, I’m more locked in with what Virginia and Rachela are doing behind them, which probably wasn’t the original intent of the song but doesn’t weaken the impression it leaves.