One can’t help but wonder if, when Ripple Music first announced their The Second Coming of Heavy series of splits in early 2015, the California-based imprint had any idea what they were getting into. They committed at the outset to make it 10 releases, each one dubbed a “Chapter,” and aside from the logistical nightmare of coordinating such a thing from recordings to cover art to pressing and the invariable presence of bands outside their window in long jackets holding boomboxes over their heads playing their own songs to try to be a part of it, even timing out the arrival of each subsequent LP seems daunting. There’s a reason most “series” of splits or comps don’t get past their first installment, and it’s because they’re a monumental pain in the ass to put make happen.
After bringing together Borracho and Geezer (review here), Supervoid and Red Desert (review here), and BoneHawk and Kingnomad (review here), The Second Coming of Heavy — Chapter Four highlights two more acts from the American underground in desert-is-as-desert-does Albuquerque trio Red Mesa and Ann Arbor, Michigan, power rockers Blue Snaggletooth. As has been the custom of the series, each band gets a side on the limited edition vinyl to work with — Red Mesa‘s is about 22 minutes, Blue Snaggletooth‘s about 19 — and an opportunity to ply their wares to a wider audience and collectors alike by teaming up. Red Mesa and Blue Snaggletooth do this while at the same time complementing each other’s style and, ultimately, adding to the breadth of The Second Coming of Heavy as a whole, underscoring the core belief of the project that heavy rock and roll knows no boundaries or other limits of any kind. It can, and does, emerge from anytime, anyplace.
The first line of the release tops a speedy motor riff. It’s Red Mesa‘s “Cactus Highway,” one of their four inclusions, and the lyric is “Let’s go to the desert/Leave it all behind.” Immediately, the impression is straightforward, somewhere between a vocalized Karma to Burn and Kyuss, and through that opener and “Low and Slow,” which follows, it seems like that’s going to be the course of the thing. Nothing wrong with that. “Cactus Highway” has a touch of shuffle in the drumming of Duane Gasper, and the tone of guitarist/vocalist Brad Frye is well-suited to the Motörhead-style thrust of the track, on which he’s backed by bassist Shawn Wright, but particularly the second half of “Low and Slow” begins to hint at a broader approach. Slower overall as one would hope based on the title, it opens to a wider feel under the solo and then gets even more spacious after its final chorus. This makes it an even more jarring turn when Red Mesa shift into the jangly-party-time strum of “Goin’ to the Desert,” with its handclaps and howls and intentional barroom blues, vaguely countrified but only lasting about 90 seconds of the song’s seven minutes before thunder crashes, a cymbal washes and the three-piece shift into minimalist psychedelia, vocals and guitar gradually returning, leading to a crash-in at the midpoint of heavier riffing and subsequent build of Monster Magnet-esque heavy space rock noise wash, the apex of which gradually fades out over the last minute with more thunder and rain sounds remaining.
It’s a sudden, somewhat odd turn for “Goin’ to the Desert” to make — seeming to present people’s ideas about actually doing so measured against the terrifying reality of the ecosystem — and it completely shatters the expectation for what “Utopia,” which closes Red Mesa‘s side, might present. As plausible as it seemed going into “Cactus Highway” to get a handle on their aesthetic of dudely desertism, coming out of “Goin’ to the Desert” renders most guessing irrelevant. They finish over the course of the 6:51 track by trading volume back and forth between “Planet Caravan” impulses filtered through Southwestern nighttime skies and harder riffing, but shift into an acoustic-led psychedelic bridge in the midsection that acts as the foundation for their last build, setting up a return to the chorus that highlights the notion of just how much Red Mesa‘s side flows across its abbreviated course, and the outward progression the band effectively sets up. It feels way more like an EP than a split side simply bringing songs together — a genuine mini-album to follow their self-released 2014 self-titled debut — and hopefully speaks to where they’re headed in terms of sound overall.
Comparatively, Blue Snaggletooth have the benefit of experience over Red Mesa. With frontman and founder Chris “Box” Taylor at the fore, Blue Snaggletooth debuted in 2011 with Dimension Thule (review here) and followed that with 2014’s Beyond Thule (discussed here) and last year’s The Last Voyage of Amra EP, settling in the meantime on a formidable lineup with Taylor working alongside guitarist Casey O’Ryan (also Bison Machine), bassist Joe Kupiec (also Wild Savages) and drummer Mike Popovich, which is the four-piece present on these three tracks as well. Beginning with the 8:30 “Sand Witch,” an opener and longest inclusion (immediate points), Blue Snaggletooth reinforce the classic heavy basis from which modern riffery stems, all the while refusing to give into cliché vintage-ism or sacrifice a modern tonal presence in the name of worshiping at the altar of their forebears. Across “Sand Witch,” “Crystal’s Gaze” and “Mystic Waters,” they demonstrate a wah-prone take that owes more to 1972 than 1968, but takes the lessons of psychedelia and suits them to their straight-ahead, mostly structured purposes.
Some echo in the chorus of “Mystic Waters” goes a long way, for example, and the swirl of intertwining guitar leads with what may or may not be Deep Purple-style organ underneath the peak of “Sand Witch” makes for an exciting stretch worthy of any size stage that thinks it could contain it. Updating that classic heavy grandeur by blending it with a humbler semi-desert fuzz is a major factor in making “Sand Witch” work so well, but Blue Snaggletooth tie their three inclusions together through a consistency of songwriting that makes each chorus a standout, and whether it’s “Sand Witch” pushing out into that dual-guitar mythology creation, or “Crystal’s Gaze” calling to mind the early fuzz triumphs of Sasquatch and drenching them in wah, or “Mystic Waters” bringing the whole thing together and making it boogie, the four-piece hold firm to their own processes and thus their identity, executing their material with confidence and a fluidity that contrasts the linear outward course of Red Mesa, emphasizing a different manner of stylistic blend in the process.
As though in conversation with their side A companions, Blue Snaggletooth start at their farthest-out point and seem to work their way back in, and while that gives The Second Coming of Heavy — Chapter Four an overarching progression through its two sides, it’s worth noting that, like all of the offerings thus far issued as a part of the series, this LP draws strengths as much from the differences between the players involved as from the similarities. I don’t think I’ve let a review pass yet without noting my issue with the number in the name — that is, that “heavy” has had more than two comings at this point in its span of generations — but as The Second Coming of Heavy — Chapter Four clearly demonstrates, Ripple and the bands it’s selected to be a part of this increasingly pivotal project are less about looking back at history than casting a new place within it.