[Click play above to stream Lizardmen’s Cold Blooded Blues in full. Album is out today on Stone Free Records.]
At some point, it makes sense that at some point heavy rock and roll would veer back toward grunge. Of course the roots of the sound go back further, but if one looks at the branch of riff-driven fare that began to surface in the mid-to-late ’90s, it was basically the other offshoot of grunge and noise rock which, unlike nu-metal, received no commercial push. What makes a release like Lizardmen‘s Stone Free Records debut full-length, Cold Blooded Blues, engaging is the bridge it then creates between grunge and what heavy rock has become in the quarter-century since that style first came to public consciousness.
The Osnabrück, Germany-based trio of guitarist/vocalist Nikki, bassist Niklas and drummer Tore might leave something to question at first as to where the “blues” part of the record’s title comes from, because early tracks like “Dust,” “Turn the Screw” and “Seven” don’t really interact with that aesthetic, but by the time they get around to “Prey to the Lord” and “Steady Rolling Man” and even the early-Truckfighters fuzz of closer “The Cannibal,” they’ve broken out the slide guitar and a swinging groove to match. That change occurs right at the midpoint of Cold Blooded Blues, as “Karma” gives way to the stomp of “Mammoth Creep” — countrified and tin-can vocalized in a way that reminds of Larman Clamor — and so the album winds up with a distinct two-sided feel that only emphasizes how vinyl-ready its eight tracks/44 minutes seem to be.
Admirably, Lizardmen skirt the issue of ’70s boogie rock almost entirely in their revisiting of heavy rock’s sonic past. Well, mostly, at least. Part of that might be generational — many of the bands who started in the late ’90s and early ’00s with a heavy ’70s influence were tapping into their youth; Lizardmen are clearly younger — but there’s plenty of retro rock around these days and no shortage of it from Germany, so to hear a band come along with something of a different take is immediately refreshing. Despite its bummer album art — because violence against women is awesome, right? — Cold Blooded Blues digs in early on “Dust,” “Turn the Screw,” “Seven” and “Karma” to a sound that rolls out weighted fuzz tones and rawer vocals atop dirty, thick low end. Nikki is a vocalist of noteworthy presence and developing style, and the bounce and pulled notes on “Dust” seem to come from a place pre-Queens of the Stone Age.
It’s a vibe “Turn the Screw” follows up with a more melodic take that brings to mind underrated UK troupe Crystal Head, building in intensity early only to find catharsis in a wash of wah and prominent tom hits in the second half before a noisy final chorus closes out. With a tambourine behind it, “Seven” has more of a party sensibility and a friendlier fuzz, but “Karma” contrasts that quickly with lines like “Everything’s going down the drain” and “I never gave you my heart/But you fucked it up anyway,” etc. This been-done-wrong spirit ties into the bluesier side B still to come, but doesn’t quite yet make the sonic leap, holding to its gritty snarl for the duration and rounding out with some impressive snare work from Tore.
As for the task of making that leap, it falls to the aforementioned “Mammoth Creep,” heavy on kick drum, slide guitar and lyrics like, “I’m working nine-to-five to keep you satisfied.” Familiar all around, but in the context of where Lizardmen were only minutes prior, a considerable shift to get there. They carried themselves well through the earlier rockers and they do likewise through “Mammoth Creep,” “Prey to the Lord” and “Steady Rolling Man,” basking in fuzz-tinged blues that only grow more engaging as they move forward, “Steady Rolling Man” proving to be a catchy highlight of the record that seems to bring in some of that grungier perspective as well as its hook efficiently states, “I ain’t got what you need — fuck off.” Sometimes the simplest statement is the way to go.
Closer “The Cannibal,” also the longest track here at over nine minutes, presents something of another turn. It brings in elements of psychedelic jamming for a surprisingly hypnotic midsection after opening with some of Lizardmen‘s largest-sounding fuzz and shouted vocals — best nod on the record, hands down — and plays itself out on a huge march topped by echoing vocals that manage to come back to a central upbeat riff for a measure before crashing out to a noisy finish. There isn’t much blues about it, ultimately, but the groove is there and it nonetheless ties Cold Blooded Blues‘ two halves together while also building on them in a different way. It will be interesting to hear if Lizardmen can work going forward to bring the varies personalities developing in their sound together or if they’ll keep the feels distinct and just build a multi-faceted songwriting approach from them, but the framework they set down on Cold Blooded Blues should offer plenty of intrigue among the converted seeking a next step from modern heavy.