Lecce, in the south of Italy (on the “heel” of the boot), is known for exporting a specific kind of limestone. Called simply “lecce stone,” it’s a malleable type of rock and used for statues and other such sculptures. Similarly, the self-titled full-length debut from the four-piece outfit Dust Storm Warning, who call Lecce home, is a highly malleable kind of stone. The band, who release the album with gorgeous psychedelic gatefold digipak artwork on Acid Cosmonaut Records, set up a surprising variety as the 11 tracks on the record play out, staying well within the realm of Kyuss-inspired desert rock, but offering three instrumental jams to break up any monotony that might crop up from the surrounding straightforwardness. Those cuts are “Dune,” “Sherpa” and “Wasteland,” and they arrive at well-spaced intervals – the first after a raucous opening trio of tracks, the second following the eight-minute Colour Haze-meets-burl of “Lonely Coyote” and the last as the penultimate track following three more rockers and setting up the closer. A defining element in the sound of Dust Storm Warning – who began their career in 2010 as Dust Storm Watchers and released an EP under that name – is the vocal approach of standalone singer “Wolf” Lombardi, who relies largely on a gruff and gravelly, sub-blues stoner rock voice to match the grooves with basic melodies and rarely veers from his methods. Topping Marco Papadia’s riffs and the rhythms of bassist Stefano Butelli and drummer Fabio Zullino, it is a dudely, dudely sound he brings to the band.
And in a lot of places on the album, it absolutely works. As Papadia subtly thickens driving Colour Haze riffs on the building later cut “Rise,” Lombardi is as in the pocket as Butelli and Zullino, who both deliver engaging and capable performances throughout the 57-minute album. But on opener “Outrun” and elsewhere, he quickly displays the vocal quirk of adding extra syllables to the ends of words. It’s almost always a kind of snarl or “yip,” in the tradition of James Hetfield or Pepper Keenan’s burliest moments, or maybe even John Garcia on Blues for the Red Sun, but after a while, it’s a distraction from what the rest of the band is doing on “Outrun” and it pulls me out of the song, making for a troubled beginning. The head-down riff of “Space Cubeship” reminds me of what made the Borracho record such a grower, and finds Lombardi no less snarling, but a little deeper in the mix and better positioned for it, and if Dust Storm Warning haven’t yet made their case clear on Dust Storm Warning, a smoking/coughing/laughing sample begins “666.1.333” just to remind that, yes, you’re listening to a stoner rock record. That’s not a complaint. That kind of thing shows Dust Storm Warning have a sense of their listener’s fickle attentions and are willing to throw in flourishes to hold them. As they continue to progress, it can only make them better songwriters.
Not that “666.1.333” is lacking for songwriting as it is. One of the album’s most memorable and well balanced tracks, it feels less forced than some of the material here and does well in setting up “Dune” as the first instrumental piece. Papadia’s guitar features heavily there, as one might expect, and he leads the Butelli – who contributes effective complementary basslines – and Zullino – who peppers in cymbal washes – through just under eight minutes of gradually building early-Natas desert ambience. Almost immediately, I find myself wanting more of it, not just in the sense of “Sherpa” and the more psychedelically noisy “Wasteland” still to come, but in terms of Dust Storm Warning’s overall stylistic blend. “Why can’t they do this all the time?” In that way, “Lonely Coyote” is perfectly, almost eerily, placed, because it fulfills exactly that longing, bridging the heavy rock and more subdued psych elements in the band’s sound and bringing back Lombardi’s rough vocals that, to their credit, still give the music space to breathe where required. At eight minutes, “Lonely Coyote” is the longest cut on Dust Storm Warning and also the diving point between the first and second halves, time-wise, of the tracklisting, marking the record’s move past the half-hour mark. Fitting that it should ultimately be the best execution of the band’s total aesthetic, but that invariably is going to lead to some drag as side B plays out.