If stoner rock was as uptight about authenticity as black metal, Ancient Warlocks might prove standard bearers for the “truest” form of the genre. The double-guitar Seattle foursome’s self-titled debut sold out its original pressing on Lay Bare Recordings, and my beloved Garden State’s own STB Records has stepped in to release another 300 copies. Of those, 75 are the “Die Hard Edition” with clear vinyl, gold inside and a “bone chip” splatter, another 100 come with the same kind of vinyl an an Obi strip with the Adam Burke warlock artwork that also appears vertically in the gatefold — fucking gorgeous — and the remaining 125 are the “Standard” edition has bone-colored vinyl with gold and black splatter. All come with a download. It’s a thing of beauty any way you want to go, and if you didn’t get the chance to check out Ancient Warlocks‘ Ancient Warlocks when it initially arrived, what makes for the first official US release is a perfect way to get caught up, the front and back cover art and the platter itself reversed in black and white from the European version.
The distinction is no less than the album deserves. Guitarists Darren Chase and Aaron Krause (the latter also vocals) don’t let you get one riff into opener “Into the Night” without laying out a fat, rolling, fuzzed-out groove, and that sets the course for the bulk of Ancient Warlocks‘ concise, well-constructed 34 minute runtime. Its eight songs divide evenly into side A and side B and sound like they were made to do so. “Into the Night” and the side B leadoff “Super Wizard” also served as the A and B sides for Ancient Warlocks‘ debut single (review here), so they’re leading with their most established jams and then expanding from there. Likewise, both “Lion Storm” on the first half and “White Dwarf” on the second make imperatives out of riffy nod, the latter pushed ahead at the album’s speediest clip by drummer Steve Jones, who also produced, and maintaining its thickness via Anthony “Oni” Timm‘s bass. Here and there they fluctuate in tempo or approach — third cut “Sweet’s too Slow” is almost singularly indebted to the 1998 Queens of the Stone Age self-titled debut — but the core of what Ancient Warlocks do is in unabashed construction of stoner rock. Its thick feel, weighted vibe and lyrics to songs like “Super Wizard” and the closer “Sorcerer’s Magician” hit every mark one might ask in an interpretation of the genre’s tenets.
Where Ancient Warlocks find their greatest success is in distinguishing themselves within that sphere. Their sound on their first full-length is the equivalent of showing up at Fort Knox, finding all the guards have gotten bored of the idea of gold and taking it all for themselves. In an age of specialization and per-band-subgenre intricacy, Ancient Warlocks do right by their material in keeping it simple, allowing the personality in Krause‘s vocals to flow through naturally without forcing something individualized to the sacrifice of memorable songs. “Cactus Wine” slows down classic Fu Manchu starts and stops in the verse and bridges a gap in its sway between that band and self-titled-era Clutch‘s storytelling, and by the time side A is done, Ancient Warlocks have well established themselves as expert practitioners of what, in an age of boozy, caricature masculinity, indie hype, pseudo-cult worship, etc., has become a lost art. Full fuzz alchemy. Yes, it absolutely has its moments of silliness — of course the “Super Wizard” is from outer space, duh — but the four-piece own those moments so completely and with such an utter lack of irony and pretense that the self-titled is all the more of a good time for their being there. Why wouldn’t “Killer’s Moon” boogie so hard? How could it not?
I had the fortune of seeing Ancient Warlocks in their hometown earlier this year (review here) and found them to be no less engaging on stage than on the record. No doubt they’ll grow and progress as a band with whatever they might take on next in following-up this album, but like the first Sasquatch record, or the first The Atomic Bitchwax, Ancient Warlocks‘ Ancient Warlocks hits all the right spots in just the right way to let you know these guys know what they’re doing and where they want to be sonically. With the added appeal of the STB version’s physical presentation — so far as I know there isn’t a CD version pressed to date — it’s a heavy rock record made to be enjoyed by those who share the band’s obvious love for riffs, heavy grooves, and fuzz you could get lost in for days. If you’d count yourself among that number, it’s one you won’t want to miss, and given how quickly the European pressing went without the band even setting foot on that continent, I wouldn’t expect these to last long either.