One of the most impressive aspects of Sollicitus es Veritatem is that it is so grounded in its theme while being so open and spaced out musically. It’s the self-released second full-length from Texas heavy jam duo Stone Machine Electric — William “Dub” Irvin on guitar/vocals, Mark Kitchens on drums/theremin — and in relatively impressionistic fashion, its five increasingly extended tracks take on the current political climate with predictive fervor and a healthy sense of dread. They’re not running down poll results by any means, but the interpretation of the album’s cover, its rat in a red tie, and Dub‘s gravely repetitions of “I really wish I was dreaming” in second cut “Dreaming” (10:17) both make the message pretty clear.
That’s an aspect of their approach that has developed in the three years since their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), though looking back there were certainly real-world elements at play there, as well as in the 2015 The Amazing Terror EP (review here) that arrived at the start of primary season to set the table for this album, the Latin title of which translates to “Nightmares are Reality.” They may well be, but Stone Machine Electric meet them head on with languid roll, heavy tones and an underlying cohesion to their jams. Recorded by Wo Fat guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump at Crystal Clear Sound in Dallas, the groove at times bears some resemblance to Stump‘s own outfit, but Sollicitus es Veritatem goes far, far out when it goes, and from the quiet, creeping three-minute start of opener “I am Fire” (7:08), the flow that Dub and Kitchens conjure is almost entirely their own, a darkened and spacious vision of psychedelic jamming and heavy blues melded together in seemingly amorphous shapes.
Together, the five tracks total 57 minutes, so Sollicitus es Veritatem is a substantial commitment in the listening if you’re going front to back, but the individual pieces that make it up sort of blur the lines one into the next and that makes the journey more fluid. That’s not to say that “I am Fire,” which is arguably the most straightforward-feeling of the inclusions even with that intro, doesn’t stand well on its own, just that while too long to fit on a single LP, the CD version of Sollicitus es Veritatem benefits from the smooth and linear progression of its component parts. In addition to leading the listener into the band’s world via cymbal wash, drone atmospherics, and guitar minimalism, “I am Fire” offers a declarative hook in its title line, and in light of the apparent thematic intention one has to wonder just who the speaker in the song might be.
A chugging riff keeps the second half earthbound, but already Stone Machine Electric have set a focus on ambience, and the rest of the material — including the slight-return-style complementary closer, “I am Fire (Slightly Burned)” (6:57) — continues to build on that, beginning with “Dreaming,” which picks up from the end of “I am Fire” with exploratory guitar feeling its way through the surrounding emptiness. Around two minutes in, after Kitchens has joined, the riff solidifies and the verse starts with Dub working quick to deliver dire warnings — not directly political in a naming-names sense, but applicable nonetheless — before a first chorus and quick trip solo that’s a precursor for the extended instrumental jam to come, brought back around to the chorus at the end for a satisfying bookend effect.
In centerpiece “PorR” (14:25) and the subsequent “Demons” (18:46), Stone Machine Electric get to the thick of Sollicitus es Veritatem‘s jam-room vibe, though layering would seem to be an essential part, obscure volume swells and noises in the background — could be theremin with effects, I suppose — an essential part in the quiet open of “PorR,” the main progression of which is a rolling guitar figure that kicks in loud in a manner with which I’ll admit some personal association I can’t quite shake, but serves as the foundation for the album’s most resonant jam, Dub pulling back on his gruff vocal delivery for a more melodic take well suited to the creeper vibe. Though it ultimately has enough room to cover its wide swath, “Demons” is more progressive at its heart, dooming out on either side of a long middle stretch of jazzy shuffle that starts after “Moonchild”-style noise past the seven-minute mark and eases into a long and welcome airy solo topping a steady rhythm.
Guitar and vocals harmonize together past 14 minutes in, and from there the riff re-thickens, diminishes, and returns with YOB-esque push toward the fadeout, giving the album a fitting apex before “I am Fire (Slightly Burned)” begins its cymbal washes recalling the opener. The lyrics are different and the instrumental approach is different — definitely some theremin — almost like Dub and Kitchens took the basic instrumental foundation they had put down for “I am Fire” and built it out in another way. A studio experiment, maybe, but its weirdo vibe is right at home on Sollicitus es Veritatem, and its raucous, noisy and swirling crescendo not only serves as an epilogue post-“Demons” but a manifestation of the otherworldly nightmarish realization Stone Machine Electric would seem to have been moving toward all along. I’ve been a fan of the band since I first heard their demo in 2010 (review here), and though they’ve walked a difficult, sometimes rough path between trying out third members and so on, their second full-length brings a sound and vibe that suits them remarkably well and, as a fan, I can only hope they continue to move forward in this direction.