Sleeping Giant, Sleeping Giant: Awake in Visions

Posted in Reviews on August 7th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

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Sometimes a band comes right out of their second rehearsal with a batch of songs, ready to hit the studio and make a record — or at least that’s how it feels. That’s not the case with Sleeping Giant, who emerge from Australia’s crowded heavy underground some six years after forming as Lowpoint. Their self-titled and self-released-but-probably-not-for-long debut album is the result of the subsequent half-decade of writing and woodshedding, and comprises a clean eight tracks and 42 minutes of solid-foundation fuzz rock, turning influences from earlier Queens of the Stone Age, Lowrider, Kyuss and more rolling fare into a collection of original songs that bask in their fuzzy familiarity but still feel geared toward their own approach, perhaps because they’ve been so worked on. Even the recording process for Sleeping Giant‘s Sleeping Giant took a year, which sounds excruciating, but the resultant long-player finds guitarist/vocalist Steven Hammer, bassist James Wright and drummer Pali Emond-Glenn sounding well aware of who they are as a band and able to manifest that in their material without losing their first-album edge.

Even without knowing it was so long in coming together, the songs don’t feel off-the-cuff. They feel worked on, thought out, considered, and that’s by no means a detriment to their execution, which remains plenty energetic. That’s an achievement unto itself, but it’s just one of the ways Sleeping Giant ultimately impress throughout, as they move through a tracklisting that’s no less impeccably arranged than the songs themselves in terms of bringing out the different sides of the band’s approach, growing richer as it goes from side A to B in what’s clearly a vinyl-intended progression — the cover by Emond-Glenn would seem geared toward that as well — that nonetheless flows smoothly throughout, making its way toward the three-part finale, “Visions I,” “Visions II” and “Visions III,” which together introduce new elements of atmosphere and aggression to the proceedings, taking the straightforward core of heavy rock from which Sleeping Giant work and using it as a basis for exploring different ideas. However long it took to make it happen, there’s little more one could reasonably ask of a debut album.

Sleeping Giant opens, suitably enough, with “Sleep,” which begins an initial salvo that will continue basically through the first four songs to one degree or another. A mid-paced groove takes hold with effective, laid back vocal melodies overtop from Hammer and a fuzz that’s both warm-sounding and right on in terms of capturing a desert-style feel while still giving Wright‘s bass room to make an impression. One is reminded early on of Sungrazer to a degree, but Sleeping Giant are on a less jammy trip overall, and the roll of “Sleep” is offset by the sheer thrust of “Temptress,” which pushes the vocals forward in the mix and offers as support for them a fervent push and tempo kick, the trade from one to the next crucial to understanding how side A works, since the subsequent “Empire” and “Serpent” will essentially make the same moves, though of course there are changes in the approach to be considered.

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“Temptress” resolves itself in a nod and final shove before dropping out to a series of curses — somebody’s mad about something, comically — and leading to the six-and-a-half-minute “Empire,” which is a highlight for its blend of bounce and roll, the chorus reminding of some lost late-’90s/early-’00s gem from somewhere in Northern Europe, even as the tones and production by Erek Ladd and Jarod Meadows remains modern. Guitar drops out in the second half of “Empire” for a moment to let the bass introduce the apex nodder riff and the slow-motion swagger that ensues is more than welcome upon the return of the full tonal breadth. In comparison, “Serpent” — also the most direct source of the Lowrider comparison above — is arguably the highest-energy of the bunch, with a careening Homme-style central riff and sense of movement brought out all the more by the shift into a slower section at the midpoint, only to return to a speedier finish. Again, not by any means revolutionary, but effective in conveying Sleeping Giant‘s priorities, which are clearly geared toward songcraft.

The basic structure of side B changes, thanks largely to the aforementioned “Visions” trilogy. “Gypsy” unfolds very much in the character of side A’s tradeoffs between longer and shorter songs, finding Hammer‘s malleable vocals in a lower register over a slower riff before opening up for the chorus, trading tempos much in the spirit of “Serpent,” only reversed. In the overarching progression of the record, “Gypsy” is inherently outshined by “Visions,” but its being there makes sense and the work it does to tie the two halves of the album together isn’t to be forgotten. Still, it’s a significant turn when the instrumental “Visions I” begins its subdued unfolding, reminding of progressive-era Truckfighters‘ less jumpy moments, with a linear build toward the heavier guitar’s full brunt.

They get there before the track’s three minutes are up, and turn directly into “Visions II,” which unfolds a King Buffalo-y psychedelic blues vibe until a more severe riff leads at 2:42 to harsher growling in post-hardcore fashion — actually, the voice reminds me of Elegy-era Amorphis, but I’m willing to chalk that up to sonic coincidence — gradually working in clean and harsh layers effectively to carry Sleeping Giant to a genuinely unexpected crescendo, leaving “Visions III” to pick up immediately from there, which it does by shifting into another engaging nod-roll as a bed for a return of sung vocals and the gradual build of a melodic wash of tone, which acts not so much as an epilogue to the prior part’s payoff, but as a different stage of the same idea — in that way, “Visions” is all the more well executed as a whole. And it’s in that last three-parter that Sleeping Giant most show the potential in their sound for bringing a range of styles together under a fuzzy banner and crafting an identity of their own from them. After six years and a name change leading to this debut, I won’t speculate on where they might go from here or when they might get there, but the obvious care they put into the writing and honing and construction of this material shows through one way or another in each track, which is no less than they deserve.

Sleeping Giant, Sleeping Giant (2019)

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