Green Dragon, Green Dragon: Strange Tales

Posted in Reviews on November 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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You enter a fog-covered forest in Maplewood, New Jersey. You see something at your feet. Do you pick it up? You found a broadsword. Do you continue forward? You come to a clearing. An object is in the trees ahead. Do you cast a spell of seeing? Your spell reveals stairs to a basement. You walk down the stairs and hear scuzzball riffing and righteous grooves from a four-piece making their self-titled debut. You’ve encountered a Green Dragon. They’re selling cassette tapes. What do you do?

Released in an edition of 50 — five-zero — copies, the first long-player from Green Dragon arrives after six years of the band exploring their sound. Led by guitarist/vocalist Zack Kurland (Sweet Diesel) and featuring fellow founders Jennifer Klein on bass and Nathan Wilson on drums, the band started out in ultra-rough fashion culling together one-off tracks before putting out a split with Purple Knights (review here) and a proper demo (review here) in 2013. That demo, also self-titled, was followed by another self-titled 7″ (discussed here) in 2016, and each intermittent short release seemed to bring their approach to a new level of cohesion. Much the same applies to the self-titled full-length, which runs a quick 27 minutes through six songs, and finds the trio expanded to a four-piece with the addition of guitarist Ryan Lipynsky, known for his work in Unearthly Trance, The Howling Wind, Serpentine Path, among a host of others.

Notable as well when it comes to the band’s sound is the apparent inclusion of organ alongside the fuzzy blowout of Kurland and Lipynsky‘s guitars, which makes an impression particularly on the last two tracks, “Dark Rider” and “Dead Space,” both of which find room in their sub-five-minute runtimes to affect a jammy feel coinciding with strong hooks and an atmosphere of garage — or basement — doom and psych. That vibe starts early though, as opener “Eternal Pyre” unfurls an early Electric Wizard grit and raw plod, Kurland‘s vocals distorted in kind with the guitars and Klein‘s bass. But there again, the flourish of organ helps add a sense of melody to the proceedings, unless that’s a guitar effect; I’ve been fooled a couple times lately. It’s not as prevalent as it will be later, but during the bridges between verses, it punctuates the nod while lending all the more of a classically doomed sentiment and acting as a tie to the psychedelia that pervades to a greater degree elsewhere on the album.

The tape — presented in a well-earned green plastic — breaks down evenly with three songs per side, and as “Eternal Pyre” gives way to “Full Moon” and “Poison Finger” on side one, the pretense-free spirit of the songs finds Green Dragon hitting into an atmosphere that’s grim but still ultimately uptempo. A Sabbathian shuffle in the midsection of “Full Moon” leads to a Paranoid-esque slowdown as the drums thud out transitions between riff cycles and the keys seem to float overtop in the process of doing so. A suitably mournful lead sears for just a moment before the last lines come and go quickly and the semi-psych churn finishes out to let Klein‘s bass introduce “Poison Finger” as feedback swells behind. They roll their way into the first verse with a swing that calls to mind Uncle Acid‘s Mind Control as the vocals bury themselves (alive) in the mix to put the riff forward along with the bass, drums and keys.

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Again, a well-placed guitar solo arrives in the second half of the song, but the feel is jammier and the sense of balance Green Dragon strike between instrumental stretch and the fact that only one of the five songs on Green Dragon tops five minutes in length — fair enough that it would be side-two opener “IV,” at 5:25 — and that those stretches still reside within mostly straightforward structures isn’t to be understated. That is, they’re able to flesh out an idea or follow a sonic path in a way that satisfies the tenets of doomly repetition and psych jamming without sounding overly self-indulgent. That can be a difficult line to walk, and even for a debut that’s been a while in the making, is no small accomplishment. Call it hard psych, psych doom, garage doom, whatever. Any name you want to give it, Green Dragon‘s Green Dragon sees the band find their niche between styles and distinguish themselves through songwriting and the execution of a nuanced overarching aesthetic.

Rumbling synth launches side two, with a stark riff beginning “IV” with a bit more patience than the band has heretofore shown (or necessarily needed to show), and a mid-tempo roller groove emerges as they press forward into the instrumental cut, tapping Hendrix-via-AliceCooper swagger in a progression that picks up shortly before three minutes in and riding that central rhythm to the song’s finish, that line of synth drone present all the while as guitars, bass and keys intertwine over the steady foundation of the drums. Of course that same drone is the last piece to go, and “Dark Rider” starts at a creep with its first verse en route to the chorus with the song’s title-line, a standout for the record as a whole that seems to be the basis of the song and emphasizes the subtle shifts in approach Green Dragon have been making all the while.

Bass announces the run that caps “Dark Rider” and “Dead Space” finishes by essentially reversing the modus, with a speedier movement up front and a roll-credits slower tempo in the back half. One more opportunity for Green Dragon to make the point they’ve been making all along, which is in how formidable the depth of their approach has come to be over the course of the last six years. At 27 minutes, Green Dragon might just as well be considered an EP in some contexts, but in light of what they play, the seeming sans-frills nature of their craft — in fact, frills abound, they’re just not overblown — it only speaks further to the garage elements of their style that they’d keep it brief. It’s been more than half a decade in the making, but it’s hard to listen to the tape and say Green Dragon have in any way wasted their time. The material they present is tight and memorable while capturing a space in which they can continue to grow.

So what do you do in that basement? You get a tape. Obviously. Then when you go back outside a space-wizard turns you into a platypus. So it goes.

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