I have a problem Samothrace’s second album, Reverence to Stone, and that is as follows: I can’t seem to make it loud enough. That’s not a complaint with the recording itself, which is plenty loud, but I’ve tried speakers, headphones, in the car, whatever, and nothing seems to be worthy volume-wise. The human ear drum can only take so much, and Samothrace seem to be calling for more. Their first outing since 2008’s Life’s Trade announced their arrival in the newer school of ultra-distorted plod and also released via 20 Buck Spin, the album is comprised of two tracks – “When We Emerged” and “A Horse of Our Own” – that clock in at just under 35 minutes. Like its predecessor, it is a work of exceptional quality, but the key difference between the two is the marked increase in creative scope. Life’s Trade was doom, and Reverence to Stone is as well, but the definition thereof that Samothrace are working with on these tracks is far less rigid and far more individualized. The cave echo on Joe Axler’s drums will be familiar to many who’ve encountered their newer school brethren and sistren in the genre, and a lurching feeling of remorse in their weighted tonality should come as little surprise. It’s the manner in which these elements are put to use and the progression of the songs that gives Reverence to Stone its distinguished feel. The guitar work of Renata Castagna and Brian Spinks (the latter also handles vocals) adds melody to the pummel and the strength of the rhythm section of Axler and bassist Dylan Desmond lies not only in setting and maintaining a groove, but in highlighting and enriching the dynamics of the songwriting. And make no mistake, both “When We Emerged” (an earlier incarnation of which appeared on their initial 2007 demo) and “A Horse of Our Own” are songs. Each has its stretches of indulgence – at 14:20 and 20:29, respectively, that would just about have to be part of the point – but there are memorable landmarks along the way, whether it’s the guitar lead and bass interplay that forms a triumphant swirl on “When We Emerged” or the post-metallic gallop of “A Horse of Our Own.”
And though one doesn’t generally think of records with songs as long as these as possibly being short, a 35-minute runtime is not only manageable, but it allows the listener to be overwhelmed by the tones, by Samothrace’s droning riffs, by Spinks’ growls and screams, by the amelodic rumble and the melodic soloing it meets along the way, but still come out of the experience without suffering from overexposure. Life’s Trade was 47 minutes, and Reverence to Stone shaves a full 12 off that. For Samothrace, that might only be one song, but it might be a song that pulls away somehow from the accomplishments of these two. After four years between releases and their share of tumult – Castagna was out and back in the lineup between the prior album and this one and at some point the band relocated from Kansas to their current residence in Seattle — it’s commendable that Samothrace didn’t decide to top a full hour this time out, instead showing a restraint that better serves the impact their material has on the listener. In the case of “When We Emerged,” that impact is visceral. The song opens with a few ambient guitar lines, but foreboding volume swells give a sense of the crush to come, and as fitting as the title is for the collective’s reemergence, so too is the track well placed before “A Horse of Our Own.” Interplay between Castagna and Spinks is an immediate distinguishing factor, and around four minutes in when the latter unleashes the first of many roars to come, the effect is blistering. Echoing screams ensue over sparse riffing that nonetheless feels claustrophobic for its heft, and it’s not until shortly before six minutes in that Axler announces a change with a snare hit that the pace picks up and Samothrace offer any measure of counterpoint to their onslaught of über-doom misery. The aforementioned leads are like the light that hits the bottom of the ocean, and Desmond’s answer to them is fodder for low end fetishizing that emerges from the mix and sets up the crunching groove that takes hold at 7:24. What the differences are between this “When We Emerged” and the one from their demo might be, I don’t know, but it’s hard to see the song doing anything other than living up to its title.