From the gong and the very first guitar jangles and cymbal washes of “Fists of Stone,” the opening cut on Fortress of Narzod‘s debut EP, Power in the Hands of Fools (on Chief Designer Records), I thought for sure the three-track release was going to be a wash of Hawkwind space rock as filtered through Monster Magnet‘s ’90s-style swagger. Turns out the Aussie trio had other plans in mind, as “Fists of Stone” quickly thickens up its riffing as guitarist Andrew Pickering kicks into a more distorted tone and both bassist Jim Lewis (also vocals) and drummer Scott Pridham are keen to match pace.
Heavy psych vibes persist, though, and the crux of Power in the Hands of Fools seems to stem from playing one side off the other. “Fists of Stone,” “(Now) There’s No Way Out” and the longer closer “Mighty Isis” offer solid riff-led groove, but there’s an impulse at work here too that comes from jamming, and particularly in Lewis‘ tone, one gets a sense that Fortress of Narzod could ride out a part for a solid eight to 10 minutes if they felt like it. They don’t come close, even on “Mighty Isis,” which tops seven, but flourishes like video game-style “space organ” and a mid-’60s psych guitar line to the centerpiece “(Now) There’s No Way Out” speak to ideas beyond those of simplistic stonerisms. Lewis‘ vocals come in more blown out but still well balanced in the mix in classic punk fashion, and when he delivers the titular line as the chorus, the effect isn’t catchy — that is, it’s not an over-the-top hook — so much as memorable.
“(Now) There’s No Way Out” also “gets heavy” in the sense of stomping into thicker fuzz in its second half, but even then, Lewis keeps his vocals consistent despite the louder guitars and drums from Pickering and Pridham and the effect is almost like the song is swallowing its own chorus. Pickering layers in a plotted but effective solo and Pridham punctuates Lewis‘ runs with snare pop and straightforward cymbal work that nonetheless does much to fill the sound before the bluesy solo is cut short and Lewis opens “Mighty Isis” with a bassline immediately grooving over cascading feedback and soon alternating lumber and grungy verse progressions.
The extra runtime between “Mighty Isis” and “Fists of Stone” or “(Now) There’s No Way Out” — which run 4:13 and 4:33, respectively — can be attributed to jamming out in the middle and at the end of the song. Pickering snakes through another impressive solo at the halfway point that leads back to the verse and soon enough, Fortress of Narzod are making good on that whole “ride a part out for a long time” thing, Lewis’ bassline being the force tying the pieces together while Pridham gives it another go on the gong before hitting into a fill that relaunches the riff and leads the way out of the song and the EP as a whole, the guitars offering last-minute slow wah swirl and crunchy fuzz in kind as the progression fades perhaps just a little too quickly.
My longstanding affection for Aussie heavy taken into account, Fortress of Narzod‘s debut probably doesn’t offer much that will honestly catch experienced listeners off guard, but Lewis, Pridham and Pickering give a solid showing of genre on Power in the Hands of Fools and enough of an indication of their style to make me curious to see where their blend of stoner and psych might lead and if they continue to expand on the nascent affinity for extra touches like the gong, the organ, 12-string acoustic, etc. Here’s a video for “(Now) There’s No Way Out” to see if you don’t agree: