Technically speaking, the limited-to-50-tapes Demo isn’t Green Dragon‘s first outing, though it is the North Jersey trio’s first on their own, their debut having been on a 2013 split tape with Purple Knights (review here). The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Zack Kurland, bassist Jennifer Klein and drummer Nathan Wilson released a video for an earlier recording of “Downflame,” which opens this cassette, late in 2012, but in the time since, they seem to have dropped the “The” from the front of their name and come further into their sound. Demo is exactly that: a rudimentary showing of what Green Dragon have to offer sonically, and its four songs — the aforementioned “Downflame,” as well as “Psychonaut,” “Earth Children” and “Book of Shadows” — strike with the urgency and exploratory feel of a band’s earliest going. So if it isn’t precisely their first release, it’s not far off.
Kurland, who was also in Purple Knights and Sweet Diesel , leads the trio’s charge in gritty riffs and blown out vocals. The tape repeats all four tracks on both sides, and altogether each side is just over 14 minutes long, so any way you go, it’s a quick look at Green Dragon‘s approach, which nestles itself somewhere between garage shuffle and doomly grooving. Klein and Wilson add a fervent swing to “Psychonaut,” pushing the song’s Motörhead-style riff into more swaggering territory as Kurland drawls out intonations that would be nearly indecipherable were it not for the included lyric sheets in both the cassette and CD versions of the release. They never get into the same kind of malevolent psycho-delic melodicism as Uncle Acid, but some of the sway in “Earth Children” and the guitar in “Book of Shadows” hint in that direction if presenting a ’90s alt-rock crunch, while “Downflame” shows more of a classic metal root, hitting its stride in Iron Maiden-style hits and gallop in its second half.
A steady underpinning of Sabbath influence serves as a uniting factor and whole the key is remembering that it’s a demo release, Green Dragon show off some sonic fluidity between the tracks as the feedback that ends “Psychonaut” fades out an into that which starts the rolling bass groove of “Earth Children.” It might be me reading into it, but the second two cuts feel more complex than “Downflame” and “Psychonaut,” with “Earth Children” pushing more into psych ground and hitting a fuller stride in the bridge after its second chorus, leading to Kurland ‘s repeating the line, “Earth children are free,” and “Book of Shadows” sounding altogether more patient and assured in its pacing. If those are earlier or later in terms of the songwriting, I don’t know, but listening to the demo front to back — and then flipping over to side two and doing so again — it’s easy to read a narrative of progression into the material. At that point, whether or not it’s there is a secondary consideration (though still relevant of course). You can hear it.
What that might mean for Green Dragon‘s progression remains to be seen, but the balance of elements they devise on Demo intrigues as a solid demo should, and the gnarl in Kurland‘s guitar and Klein ‘s bass feels particularly suited to the compression of a tape, though I’ll say as well that both the CD and digital versions work with a little more frequency room to space out. Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure release. “You’ve just encountered a Green Dragon…”