It’s a cavernous and mystical sound that Heavy Temple have conjured for their self-titled debut EP. After impressing with a single for “Unholy Communion” last year — that song is also presented third of the extended three cuts on Heavy Temple and is out as a cassingle via Sarlacc Productions — the Philadelphia outfit were picked up by Germany’s Ván Records for the vinyl and digipak CD issue of this more complete first outing, and it’s an endorsement of no small consequence, Ván having long since proved the mettle of its tastes via picking up cult-minded acts like Year of the Goat and The Devil’s Blood. Heavy Temple – here a trio but now a duo with bassist/vocalist Elyse “High Priestess Nighthawk” Mitchell as the sole remaining founder — present a more laid back style of grooving than either of those two, but remain plenty heavy nonetheless across “Dirty Ghost” (8:17), “Legendary Conversations with Ants” (7:31) and the aforementioned “Unholy Communion” (13:15) and offer atmosphere to match the intermittent full-thrust tonal heft. They are, in fact, notably cohesive in their approach, and particularly for their first time out, Heavy Temple seem to arrive with a firm notion of their intent, what they want to sound like and how they want to achieve it. Mitchell‘s voice is dynamic and her approach shifts smoothly between “Dirty Ghost” and “Legendary Conversations with Ants” before delivering its most powerful performance on the closer, and in guitarist Shawn “Rattlesnake” Rambles and drummer Andy “Bearadactyl” Martin (also of Maple Forum alums Clamfight), she had a formidable complement with which to establish the range heard in these songs.
About those songs: They are spacious, psychedelic, heavy and they manage to avoid much of the cult rock cliché while proving both immersive and memorable over the course of Heavy Temple‘s 29-minute span. Working together as a debut EP, they more than succeed in giving the band’s audience a sense of what Heavy Temple want to do moving forward, and whether it’s the quiet doom blues in “Legendary Conversations with Ants” that gives way to a slow-motion effects-drenched freakout led by Rambles‘ guitar or the jammy bliss that emerges at the end of “Unholy Communion,” they retain their hold of the proceedings and excellently showcase the potential for what the band might or might have become going forward. “Dirty Ghost” commences with an otherworldly volume swell — minimal, quiet — before gradually unfolding itself with Martin‘s drums and Mitchell‘s bass and vocals, and it’s not until well past the halfway point of its eight-minute run that it finally explodes into full-on psych-grunge heft, like if someone wanted to turn peak-era Soundgarden production into a religion. That patience becomes a central element as Heavy Temple plays out, and the trio are just as likely to ride out a loud part as a quiet one, not shying either from crafting a void or filling it with distortion. The malleability of Mitchell‘s voice between the sultry croon in the first minutes of “Dirty Ghost” and the rawer shouting at the apex of “Unholy Communion” — the EP flowing smoothly between the two; something else that bodes well for a full-length — is another major asset working in their favor, and the stoner-mass of “Legendary Conversations with Ants,” while apparently more worldly in its lyric than the title might have you believe, executes a subtle linear build that ends with some classic doom riffing that bleeds right into the start of “Unholy Communion,” the whole release tying together seamlessly.
The first couple minutes of “Unholy Communion” are dedicated to building up tension, but at about 2:50, the song opens up and begins a payoff that will carry it through its midpoint, where it breaks to minimal ambience to set the stage for the EP’s final build and ultimate heavy psych payoff, Rambles‘ soloing meshing with layers of effects swirl that still keep enough room in the mix to sound human-made, though by then all three sound completely engrossed in the stirring concoction, even as they emerge from it for the big-riff finish and last-second string epilogue. Whatever Heavy Temple do from here is bound to be vastly different. I don’t know whether Mitchell intends to form a new trio or keep the band as a two-piece — she’s currently joined by drummer Saint Columbidae – but in any case, the change from the guitar, bass/vocals and drums lineup here is sure to manifest itself in subsequent output, even if her songwriting remains at the core. With that in mind, Heavy Temple may or may not be telling of the band’s future, and one would wonder about releasing it at all but for the fact that when a label like Ván comes calling, you answer. If this EP is to be Heavy Temple‘s beginning point, it starts them with a tumult marked by material of striking quality. It’s a familiar enough story for bands working under a principle songwriter, and if that’s to be the tale of Heavy Temple, the hope is they can find consistency in the chaos. Taken on its own merits, however, Heavy Temple is among the best short releases I’ve heard so far this year, and if it can serve as even the most rudimentary standard of quality from which the band can expand their sound, then they’re going to be just fine. Point is, even just in Mitchell‘s performance there’s potential here and a lot of it. How she handles that and what she does with it the next time out will be a big tell in terms of Heavy Temple‘s longer-term prospects, and either way, it seems likely that their sophomore studio outing will be as much a debut as this one. A live release in the interim would go a long way in giving a look at where Heavy Temple are headed.