Half a decade after issuing their excellent sophomore outing in the form of Estampida de Trombones, Andalusian heavy rockers Viaje a 800 emerge a much different band on the follow-up, Coñac Oxigenado. Not necessarily sonically – their sound is still very much defined by an encompassing, moody tonal weight and the lower register vocals of bassist Alberto “Poti” Mota – however, Mota has revamped Viaje a 800’s lineup and shifted the songwriting process, going from a four-piece to a trio and writing some of the longest songs the band had ever put on an album. Where Estampida de Trombones had shorter pieces like “Nicosia” or “Zé,” none of Coñac Oxigenado’s five tracks clocks in at under six minutes, and the album as a whole is a full 51 minutes long. I’d say that the band had a lot on their minds after not issuing a record in five years, but the break between their 2001 Diablo Roto De debut and Estampida de Trombones was six years, and the second album was the shorter of the two. In any case, Viaje a 800 – who release the full-length, as always, via Alone Records – are well suited to the more extended form, and the album is clearly organized to showcase the longer cuts, with the three that run over 10 minutes positioned as the opener, centerpiece and closer. Those are “Oculi Omnium in Te Sperant Domine,” “Eterna Soledad” and “What’s Going On,” respectively, and each of them as well as “Ni Perdón Ni Olvido” and “Tagarnina Blues” between have something different to offer the listener who would take them on. The closer is notable for the departure from the band’s native Spanish to English lyrics, but even so, Viaje a 800 still sound like Viaje a 800 more than they sound like anyone else, and anyone who got into either or both of their other albums will recognize elements still present in their sound, whether it’s the insistent rhythms, vague Monster Magnet influence or choice riffing. Given that Mota is joined by two new players – J. Angel on guitar/backing vocals and Andres on drums – I don’t know and won’t presume to say how much of the songwriting was his to start with, but as Viaje a 800 came into their third with a strong sound developed over two prior outings, that they’d develop the sound rather than depart from it in spite of lineup shifts can only be a good thing. Particularly given how much Coñac Oxigenado rocks.
On either of their past albums, “Oculi Omnium in Te Sperant Domine” might have been more than one song. Viaje a 800 open with a driving riff that soon leads into the hook of a verse – Mota wasting no time in establishing a straightforward push – and soon Angel takes the fore with a couple leads offset by vocals here and there around the central figure carried across on rhythm guitar, bass and drums. Just past three minutes in, however, the pace cuts and flourishes of percussion and a descending stair progression lead the way out to a psychedelic interlude. Mellotron sounds underscore a sparse bluesy guitar before Andres ups the snare punctuation and Mota returns on vocals for a still-slowed verse. In turn, this gives way to a faster bass-introduced section topped with fuzz guitar that veers into flamenco claps and rhythmic intricacy. The guitar eventually comes back alongside Mota’s steady bassline and Andres’ consistent snare march, but Viaje a 800 never quite get back to the initial verse progression, ending instead what started out as a simply structured song with a lengthy instrumental jam. Whether or not it was their intent to catch their audience off guard, I don’t know, but the disorienting effect persists and it feels purposeful. The shorter “Ni Perdón Ni Olvido” starts out more metallic with a guitar like from Angel that feels culled from the playbook of Countdown to Extinction-era Megadeth – of course the context is different – that immediately grounds Coñac Oxigenado’s flow and sets the course for the next seven-plus minutes, most of which is derived from that initial distorted verse line. Angel’s lead work proves a highlight throughout the record, but as “Ni Perdón Ni Olvido” branches out so specifically from the guitar line, it seems especially notable on the second track. As “Eterna Soledad” gets underway with an organic-feeling mandolin groove, he becomes all the more a standout factor in Viaje a 800’s current incarnation.