[Please note: Click play above to hear “Black Magick Boogieland.” Death Alley release Black Magick Boogieland May 19 on Tee Pee Records. Preorders are available through Tee Pee, on iTunes or on Amazon.]
It’s had many names, but ultimately, Black Magick Boogieland is a familiar idea. For Sleep, it was their Holy Mountain. For George Clinton, his Mothership. For Motörhead, a certain card out of the deck. It’s that thing or that place that represents who a band is or where they feel they’re coming from, existentially as much as sonically. For Amsterdam four-piece Death Alley, the last year and a half has found them locked in recording dungeons, finding birth and rebirth onstage and in the studio, hitting the road hard, reveling in good times and pulling together through the strange moments that seem tiny at the time but ultimately help us all discover who we are.
Death Alley‘s Black Magick Boogieland — almost impossibly — lives up to the righteousness of its title. Yes, it’s over the top at times and it knows that and sees the value in it, but most importantly, it’s a work that finds cohesion in the black, the magic(k) and the boogie. Of the various times I’ve written about the band on this site, almost each one finds them with a different genre tag, from protothrash to retro heavy punk to heavy rock and roll. Truth is, they’re all of those things, and the multi-faceted sound of their debut, from the reworked versions of “Over Under” and “Dead Man’s Bones” which were also the A and B sides to their first single (review here), to the 12-minute space-rocking closer “Supernatural Predator,” is tied together by the energy with which the material is delivered and the won-over knowledge of what they want to accomplish stylistically and in terms of their songwriting.
Born out of the demise of three acts — punkers Gewapend Beton, The Devil’s Blood and Mühr — Death Alley brings elements together from each into a served-raw blend of fist-pumping, sonically-weighted classic-styled heavy. The album is neither metal nor punk but has elements crucial to both, and when it pushes beyond the roughneck shuffle of “Bewildered Eyes” and “The Fever” into the groovier roll of “Golden Fields of Love,” somehow it not only makes sense, but becomes utterly necessary. The elements at root in its creation might be primitive, and Black Magick Boogieland might seem that way at first listen as well, but there isn’t a level on which one might approach the work as a whole that it doesn’t fulfill, pulling you back to when rock and roll was irony-free, guns blazing, ass shaking and seemed able to hit you directly on a skeletal level.
To herald their debut’s May 19 release through Tee Pee Records, I spoke to all four members of Death Alley — vocalist Douwe Truijens, guitarist Oeds Beydals, bassist Dennis Duijnhouwer and drummer Ming Boyer — about some of the moments that have shaped the band to this point, among them playing Roadburn in 2014, touring hard alongside their soon-to-be labelmates in The Shrine, recording the first single with Guy Tavares (Orange Sunshine) at his Motorwolf studio in Den Haag, bringing in Beydals‘ former bandmate, ex-The Devil’s Blood vocalist FaridaLemouchi,to sing on “Supernatural Predator,” and more, and the result is one of the best conversations I’ve had the pleasure to host here in a long time.
All told, it wound up coming awfully close to 6,900 words, so there’s plenty to dig into, but I think the story (and stories) these guys have to tell is well worth the time. The complete Q&A is after the jump. I sincerely hope you enjoy.
French four-piece Sunder have announced a newly-inked deal with Tee Pee Records and Crusher Records covering multiple continents for the release of their impending debut full-length. Well, kind of a debut full-length. The Lyon outfit released a self-titled debut (review here) early in 2014 under the moniker The Socks via Small Stone. Apparently the year subsequent has brought a few changes with it, among them the name. As Sunder, the band will release their first album this Fall, and as the new demo “Deadly Flower” shows, it’s a new beginning on multiple levels.
The Socks were indebted heavily to the swing and swagger of ’70s-style blues rock that has gained a foothold throughout Europe in the wake of Graveyard and Kadavar. With the classic Mellotron of “Deadly Flower” and the organic vocal, guitar, bass and drum sounds that accompany, Sunder still have some of that going on, but the new track finds guitarist/vocalist Julien Méret, drummer Jessy Ensenat, bassist Vincent Melay and key-specialist/backing vocalist Nicolas Baud digging deeper into the roots of psychedelic rock — more ’67 than ’72, if that makes any sense. Of course, it’s one track, and it’s a demo, so how indicative of the overall direction of the album it may or may not be remains to be seen over the next couple months, but it’s an immersive starting point, Sunder clearly benefiting from the lessons from their time as The Socks as they move forward in this new stage of their career.
To mark the occasion of their Tee Pee signing, I’m happy to be able to host the premiere of the “Deadly Flower” video. The clip itself is basically their logo with some tripped-out vocals, but I think you’ll find the jam worth losing yourself in anyway as an introduction to where they’re at now. More to come as we get closer to the album’s completion and subsequent release.
Official announcement follows the video below. Hope you enjoy:
Sunder, “Deadly Flower”
SUNDER Signs to Tee Pee Records
Forceful French Four-Piece (formerly The Socks) Fortifying First Full Length LP
French heavy psychedelic rock band SUNDER has signed to Tee Pee Records. Formerly known as The Socks, the group is known for its edgy, electric sound that draws from the heavier side of 1960’s / 70’s rock and swings with acid grooves. The group’s as-yet untitled debut will see a fall, 2015 release in North / South America and Australia via Tee Pee and in Europe and Japan via Crusher Records.
“It’s with great pleasure and pride to be part of two of the most amazing heavy/psych labels in the world,” said the band in a statement. “The Socks were of Lyon, France. Sunder is of the world and it is with the sounds of Sunder that the shores of the world will be plundered.”
In celebration, the band has released a tripped visual video for its new track, “Deadly Flower”.
SUNDER features Julien Méret (guitar / vocals) Jessy Ensenat (drums), Vincent Melay (bass) and Nicolas Baud (Farfisa, Mellotron, backing vocals).
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
If you listen to these podcasts on the regular, you might notice this one is a little different than other recent editions have been. I was all set to start it off at a raging clip as per usual and then that Bison Machine track stood out to me with that warm bassline and I just decided that was the way to go, start off languid with that and My Sleeping Karma and ease into the rawer and meaner stuff from there. There are a couple jarring moments here and there, but that’s kind of the idea too, and I think overall across the board it flows well across the two hours, the second of which builds across All Them Witches’ jams and Ichabod’s sludge rock right into the atmospheric doom extremity of Bell Witch. Three songs in about 55 minutes. Awesome.
You might also notice the tracklist below has time stamps. Listed is the start time for each song, so if you get lost along the way, that should hopefully provide some point of reference. In case there was any doubt I pay attention to the stuff people say in comments to these podcast posts.
As always, hope you enjoy:
0:00:00 Bison Machine, “Gamekeeper’s Thumb” from Hoarfrost
0:07:12 My Sleeping Karma, “Prithvi” from Moksha
0:13:39 Weedeater, “Claw of the South” from Goliathan
0:19:00 Sinister Haze, “Betrayed by Time” from Betrayed by Time EP
0:24:15 Sun and Sail Club, “Dresden Fireball Freakout Flight” from The Great White Dope
0:26:11 Lasers from Atlantis, “Protectress” from Lasers from Atlantis
0:33:29 Arenna, “Drums for Sitting Bull” from Given to Emptiness
0:39:40 Mirror Queen, “Scaffolds of the Sky” from Scaffolds of the Sky
0:45:47 Les Discrets, “La Nuit Muette” from Live at Roadburn
0:51:02 Cigale, “Harvest Begun” from Cigale
0:54:49 Black Mare, “A Low Crimes” from Black Mare/Lycia Split
1:00:03 All Them Witches, “It Moved We Moved/Almost There/A Spider’s Gift” from A Sweet Release
1:24:09 Ichabod, “Squall” from Merrimack
1:33:39 Bell Witch, “Suffocation, a Burial I – Awoken (Breathing Teeth)” from Four Phantoms
Posted in audiObelisk on April 20th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It would be wrong to say The Atomic Bitchwax‘s sixth album, Gravitron, is a return to the form of their early days, if only because it would somehow imply that the record — which is out tomorrow on Tee Pee — is backward-looking. The New Jersey-based outfit released their self-titled debut in 1999, and the only remaining member from that record is bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, so it’s not like The Atomic Bitchwax are trying to hearken back to some glory-days ideal from 16 years ago. Frankly, they don’t need to. The material across Gravitron‘s 10 tracks blazes in the best way possible, Kosnik, guitarist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella tearing into what’s become the band’s signature winding riffage and delivering it at a head-spinning pace on instrumental cuts like “Down with the Swirl” and “War Claw” (a tribute to Wroclaw, Poland, maybe?) and the early rager “No Way Man.” The Bitchwax‘s last outing, 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here) was more of a concept piece than an album — a single extended track of riff-barrage, almost mocking the idea of “it’s all about the riffs,” and to considerable effect. With Gravitron, they reincorporate what’s always been their truest strength: Songwriting.
And they do so with considerable intensity. The first moments of opener “Sexecutioner” tell the tale — Gravitron begins at full blast and offers precious little letup until the penultimate “Roseland” transitions to the slower groove of closer “Ice Age Hey Baby.” It’s a tumult of head-down forward drive, Kosnik, Ryan and Pantella, maybe having benefited from getting “The Local Fuzz” out of their system — a grand purging — getting immediately down to business. For those who came aboard with The Atomic Bitchwax since the release of 3 in 2005, which was Ryan‘s first in the band, Gravitron will easily be the heaviest, meanest album encountered. The trio is tight, the turns are crisp and the flow of the album is thrust along with momentum that only builds as they dig into the catchy, classic Bitchwaxian “It’s Alright,” Ryan and Kosnik putting on a Rushy technical clinic without showing off or making the fact that they can play like that the point of the song while Pantella translates their twists into an accessible, memorable groove that’s one of the high points of the album. Add to that the momentary slowdown of “Coming in Hot,” which closes out side A with another on-fire jam, this one shifting out of the chorus with a drum solo that the guitar and bass join seamlessly in a manner fitting for the chemistry The Atomic Bitchwax have developed on stage in recent years. Killing it, in short. The trend continues on side B.
Proof that we’re dealing with a more confrontational Bitchwax? How about “Fuck Face?” Punctuated by a jabbing snare and led by the guitar and bass simultaneously through an under-three-minute instrumental run soaked in wah, it’s nonetheless a fast-swinging barnburner and not the first or the last. “Porto World” follows and while it’s the first song to touch the four-minute mark — only “Ice Age Hey Baby” is longer, at 4:45 — it still rages, with Kosnik warning, “I hope you brought your battle axe” as they run at a sprint into a cowbell-inclusive groove before trading back to the next verse and hook, the cowbell returning again as a bridge before a final chorus closes out, quickly, classically-structured but still brimming with energy, which is all the more fitting for “Down with the Swirl”‘s jazzy turns and solo-topped build. They barely stop to take in the view as they reach that mountaintop in “Down with the Swirl,” but the song provides emphasis on the newfound vitality of the trio anyway, not so different ultimately from some of what “The Local Fuzz” had to offer, just in a different, more upbeat context, like a disgruntled In Rock-era Deep Purple raised on Red Bank burgers and fries. While “Porto World” and “War Claw” could easily be Euro-minded, “Roseland” is purely regionalist homage, taking its name and lyrical basis from the long-running venue in Manhattan (my grandmother danced there in the 1930s) turned into luxury condos just in case anyone needed a convenient example of how New York City has degraded itself in pursuit of profit post-9/11 and the financial collapse of 2008. The Atomic Bitchwax take a more sentimental view, bidding the big room goodbye with due sentiment and thud in what seems like a landmark hook until the handclaps start on “Ice Age Hey Baby.”
As they close out their sixth album, they seem to have learned the best lesson of their fourth, 2008’s TAB4, which caught some flack for being poppier and more slickly produced even than 3 or the 2006 Boxriff EP, but had more than a couple of gems to its credit as regards songwriting. That record finished with “Wreck You,” one of the band’s most infectious works to date, and “Ice Age Hey Baby” works in similar form, a rolling bassline and simple rhythm backing Kosnik‘s sing-along-ready chorus, displayed immediately and readily throughout the song, departing only to give Ryan some time to bust out a psychedelic lead. After the hit and run nature of most of Gravitron, the closer’s something of a breather, but well placed and well appreciated, mirroring and upping the game from “Coming in Hot” while reminding one last time that no matter how fast the Bitchwax might decide to go, and no matter how many jumps they might make here and there within a track, they’re still serving a bigger purpose. “Ice Age Hey Baby” is an outlier, and it’s positioned to leave a lasting impression when the record is over. No big surprise it succeeds at just that. While Kosnik and Pantella both play in Monster Magnet, still obviously going strong, with the likes of Solace, Halfway to Gone, Ryan‘s former band Core, and many others gone, The Atomic Bitchwax are sort of the last-band-standing from what was once a fertile Central Jersey heavy rock scene, based around Red Bank, Long Branch, etc. Their reach and their focus have gone well beyond their hometown, which is likely a major contributor to their survival, but to think of all the acts who’ve either outright broken up or transitioned into periodic gigging while Kosnik, Ryan and Pantella stand at the ready to tour Europe for another month and release a triumph of a record like Gravitron makes their having not only lasted but thrived all the more impressive. Whatever else they do from here, Gravitron will be a landmark.
They release the album tomorrow and hit the road in Europe starting at Desertfest in London on April 24. Please find the full stream of the album below, followed by the current tour dates, courtesy of Sound of Liberation. Enjoy:
New Jersey’s legendary, riff-centric power trio THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX (aka TAB) returns with gargantuan riffs and jaw-dropping psych sonics on its sixth full length LP, Gravitron. Now featuring TWO members of MONSTER MAGNET — bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik and drummer Bob Pantella — alongside shred-tastic gunslinger Finn Ryan, the band has perfected its unique style of NYC hard rock that High Times appropriately tabbed, “thunder-boogie”. On Gravitron, THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX’s Rush-like riff mazes and carpal-tunnel-inducing riffs are on full display; every note bleeds with urgency.
On Tour: 24.04.15 LONDON, UK DESERTFEST 25.04.15 BERLIN, D DESERTFEST 26.04.15 WARSAW, POL SKWER 27.04.15 DRESDEN, D OST POL 28.04.15 BREMEN, D ROEMER 29.04.15 BIELEFELD, D FORUM 30.04.15 JENA, D KULTURBAHNHOF 01.05.15 MAASTRICHT, NL TIMMERFABRIEK 02.05.15 LONGLAVILLE, FR CRYSTONER FEST 03.05.15 GEEL, BEL JH DE BOGAARD 04.05.15 DÜSSELDORF, D PITCHER 05.05.15 AACHEN, D MUSIKBUNKER 06.05.15 THESSALONIKI, GR EIGHTBALL 07.05.15 ATHENS, GR AN CLUB 08.05.15 FRANKFURT, D DAS BETT 09.05.15 SIEGEN, D VORTEX 10.05.15 LUCERNE, CH SEDEL 11.05.15 MUNICH, D FEIERWERK 12.05.15 ZURICH, CH KINSKI 13.05.15 MILANO, IT LO FI 14.05.15 NICE, FR LE VOLUME 15.05.15 BARCELONA, SP ROCKSOUND 16.05.15 BILBAO, SP KRISTONFEST 17.05.15 PORTO, POR CAVE 45
Posted in audiObelisk on April 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
New York heavy rockers Mirror Queen pretty much sum up their entire story with “Strangers in Our Own Time,” the nine-minute longest track from their upcoming LP, Scaffolds of the Sky, out April 21 on Tee Pee Records. Both in terms of what works best in their sound — the double-guitar NOWBHM-isms as filtered through ’70s atmospheres, heavy psychedelia and laid back roll — and in how their aesthetic places them as outliers. The four-piece have toured in Europe and the US since the 2011 release of their debut, From Earth Below, playing alongside the likes of Greenleaf, Truckfighters, Blaak Heat Shujaa, among many 0thers, the band having grown out of guitarist/vocalist Kenny Sehgal‘s prior outfit, Aytobach Kreisor.
Joined in Mirror Queen by lead guitarist Phi Moon, bassist James Corallo and drummer Jeremy O’Brien, Sehgal leads the way through seven tracks of classically progressive heavy rock and roll. Not necessarily all-out psychedelic all the time in terms of an effects wash or unhinged echo swirl, Scaffolds of the Sky nonetheless unfolds with warm, natural tonality and a laid back atmosphere contrary to the intensity of the city in which it was crafted. The opening title-track seems to nod directly at Cream, and as they push through crunchier riffs of songs like “Quarantined” and “At the Borderline on the Edge of Time,” the latter not nearly as Hawkwindian as the title might convey, they hold true to the steady roll of “Scaffolds of the Sky,” the push of the trippier “Vagabondage” and “Strangers in Our Own Time,” the closing duo of “Dark Ships Arrived” and “Wings Wetted Down” exploring more open territory with a foundation in Corallo‘s basslines and O’Brien‘s swinging drums, Moon and Sehgal strumming and soloing into a quiet kind of space rock, wide-ranging but somehow still organically textured.
Today I have the distinct pleasure of hosting “Strangers in Our Own Time” for streaming ahead of the Scaffolds of the Sky release this month. Its extended runtime wraps up side A of the album and it provides a particularly hypnotic roll in its central riff, shifting into double-guitar jamming that takes off the chorus hook with a snare build and heady coating of wah. By the time they break it down into the creeping, stop-short retread of the central figure, the charm is writ large over the track as they drive ahead toward the final groove. I hope you’ll agree, and enjoy:
NYC volume dealers MIRROR QUEEN take guitar rock by force on the ominously titled Scaffolds of the Sky. The band’s driving music accelerates at the distinct point where NWOBHM and heavy Prog Rock intersect; a direct and definite delineation of an era when urgent metallic sound was the order of the day. MIRROR QUEEN’s twin-guitar harmonies and rhythmic gallop recall early Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, while its hook-laden, timeless riffs and instrumental fireworks reference cherished champions UFO, Blue Oyster Cult and Captain Beyond.
A mainstay in the NYC hard rock scene, MIRROR QUEEN has shared the stage with heavyweight peers such as Earthless and The Shrine in addition to European tours with legends such as UFO and Uli Jon Roth! Scaffolds of the Sky is a modern day collection of laser-focused, lights out songs that carry the listener across a myriad of musical thresholds, each at once, time-honored and top-notch.
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 1st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Very interested to hear what Los Angeles desert rockers Blaak Heat Shujaa come up with for their next album. Their second record and first full-length on Tee Pee, The Edge of an Era (review here), is just about two years old at this point, and with their having recently switched out bassists, bringing on board Tom Davies, formerly of Nebula and currently also of The Freeks, I’m expecting good things to come from the three-piece, who manage to blend technical intricacy and psychedelic vibing in a way that detracts from neither.
Their next LP, yet untitled, is currently in pre-production, which I guess is something one does when working with the likes of Matt Hyde, who’s about as “real producer” as real producers come while still retaining an understanding of the sonically weird. No word yet on a release date, but the trio have put the new instrumental track “Anatolia” to use in a band-performing-in-a-dark-room video by longtime associates Andrew Baxter and Cole Jenkins, and while I’m pretty sure the recording is live, the sound is studio-clear so it’s easy to get a feel for what they’re doing in the relatively quick four-minute track.
And as you make your way there (the video’s at the bottom of this post, if I haven’t said that yet), take special note of the fact that the announcement of the clip’s arrival comes with the band mentioned as Blaak Heat only, no Shujaa. They haven’t said anything one way or another that I’ve seen, but I can’t help but wonder if a name change isn’t in the works or if one’s already taken place. Will let you know when I know.
BLAAK HEAT unleashes new song and video, “ANATOLIA”
Los Angeles-based, American-British-French psych rockers BLAAK HEAT have released footage of a live performance for a new song, “Anatolia”. Shot at Helena Markos’s Tanz Akademie by BLAAK HEAT official filmmakers Andrew Baxter and Cole Jenkins, the video is the band’s first officially released material since 2013.
BLAAK HEAT recently announced the arrival of new bass player Tom Davies (Nebula, The Freeks) and is currently in pre-production for its new album with Grammy Award winning-producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Deftones).
Posted in Whathaveyou on March 30th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
As previously announced, Amsterdam proto-whathaveyou rockers Death Alley will release their debut album, the righteously-titled Black Magick Boogieland, May 19 on Tee Pee Records. The thrash/punk four-piece boasts ex-members of cult-rock forerunners The Devil’s Blood and underrated cosmic doomers Mühr (seriously, fucking listen to Mühr), but Death Alley has nothing if not a sonic personality of its own, flooded with choice riffs and classic metal and heavy rock ideals. We didn’t know much about the album before, other than that it was happening, and details have started to come down the PR wire with things like the tracklisting and cover art.
That cover art, which you can see below, pretty much says it all. Dig it:
DEATH ALLEY to Release Debut Album Black Magick Boogieland May 19
Amsterdam Speed Rock Heavyweights Sign to Tee Pee Records
Amsterdam’s heavy, punked-out, proto-metal outlaws DEATH ALLEY will release the full-length album, Black Magick Boogieland, on May 19 via Tee Pee Records. The album is the highly anticipated debut from the underground band featuring former The Devil’s Blood guitarist Oeds Beydals and ex-members of Gewapend Beton and Mühr.
DEATH ALLEY plays rip roarin’, heavy music that delivers a kick ass new take on an old school RAWK, mashing Motörhead and Black Sabbath to create a blistering, raw sound. The band’s music delivers relentless energy and maximum attitude! Black Magick Boogieland burns from start to finish, as super-charged guitars, electrifying leads and a raucous punk attitude race full throttle down a highway to hell.? DEATH ALLEY blasts non-stop, full-throttle, fast-n-furious rock action? that flies a giant middle finger in the face of poseur posturing. Thank the gods of heavy music, you’ve just met your new favorite band.
“It’s thrilling to release our first full-length on Tee Pee, to become part of a family of bands whose music inspires us and with people we know well,” says DEATH ALLEY front man Douwe. “It’s about time Tee Pee opens the gates to the Black Magick Boogieland.”
The sound of DEATH ALLEY has been described as “Rock ‘N’ Roll played with metal finesse and a pitch black psychedelic soul”. In 2013, DEATH ALLEY released the limited 12″ split single, “Peter Pan Speedrock vs. Death Alley”, which announced the group’s formation with a vengeance. The band’s debut 7″ — Over Under b/w Dead Man’s Bones — dropped last year via Van Records and was hailed as “a serious musical Rock ’N’ Roll statement.” DEATH ALLEY followed the release of the 7″ with an appearance at the 2014 Roadburn Festival and month-long European tour.
DEATH ALLEY Black Magick Boogieland Track listing: 1.) Over Under 2.) Black Magick Boogieland 3.) Bewildered Eyes 4.) The Fever 5.) Golden Fields of Love 6.) Stalk Eyed 7.) Dead Man’s Bones 8.) Supernatural Predator
Posted in Reviews on March 5th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If right now has a sound somewhere within heavy or heavy psychedelic rock, it probably isn’t far off from what Philadelphia’s Ruby the Hatchet conjure on their second full-length, Valley of the Snake. Released through Tee Pee Records with jaw-droppingly righteous Adam Burke cover art, it is a vinyl-tailored 40 minutes that looks back to ’70s acid rock stylistically via a few choice modern influences, and is crisp, clear and melodic while still offering a satisfying if deceptive sonic heft. Highly-stylized but substantial beyond that, its six cuts speak to the growth of a quality songwriting process, and where 2012’s Ouroboros cut its teeth in shorter bursts of boogie and more upbeat swing, Valley of the Snake melts down those impulses into a molten overarching groove that plays out through longer, more complex tracks. Vocalist Jillian Taylor, guitarist John Scarperia, bassist Mike Parise, drummer Owen Stewart and organist Sean Hur thus craft an exceptionally fluid overarching sense of vibe within which the individual pieces of Valley of the Snake play out. One can hear the impact in recent years of bands like Witch Mountain, whose dirty blues seem to have a presence in side B opener “Unholy Behemoth,” and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, whose garage-rock style is writ large over the album’s production and to whom “Vast Acid” seems to directly refer in both its riff and in a lyrical nod to that band’s most infectious hook, “I’ll Cut You Down.” With atmospheres intensified and fleshed out by Hur‘s organ and sundry echoes on the guitar and vocals, Ruby the Hatchet nonetheless bring an air of individuality and craft a niche for themselves within these familiar elements.
Between “Vast Acid” and the preceding opener “Heavy Blanket,” the album’s most immediate impression is one of stomp and swing. “Heavy Blanket” in particular brings to mind the nodding clarion “Seer” that launched Witch‘s landmark self-titled debut in 2006, but Taylor‘s vocal layering and the organ present a different context. It’s an immediately fluid groove, opening wide after a 16-second fade-in, and the roll that ensues is as welcoming an introduction as one might ask of Ruby the Hatchet, who make a turn around the halfway point to a more instrumentally focused second half built on vibe and culminating in a twisting finish and sustained organ note that drops out just so the quick start of “Vast Acid” can seem to hit harder. Scarperia‘s guitar seems to be leading the way, a solo is layered on top of organ and bass and plays out intertwining with the central riff, but Taylor is a formidable presence throughout Valley of the Snake, and ultimately there’s a balance found between them, Hur, Stewart and Parise, resulting in warm tones that never step too far out of the mix. “Tomorrow Never Comes,” which follows, begins with poignant acoustic guitar and unfolds from there to a coherent high point of the album, with fluid tempo shifts and a feel somewhere between more traditional doom and Ruby the Hatchet‘s already established commanding rhythmic movement. At 8:49, it is the longest inclusion on Valley of the Snake, but it uses its time well, pushing through a speedier middle before slowing back down and ultimately finding a swirling space between the two sides as it builds to its apex and finishes out with just enough feedback to remind the listener of the danger behind and ahead.
Symmetry and structure play a large role throughout Valley of the Snake, both within the songs and in how the record is put together. On side A, two five-minute songs lead to the longer “Tomorrow Never Comes.” Side B mirrors this with the six-minute “Unholy Behemoth” and “Demons” pushing toward the finale of the title-track. The change is more aesthetic. “Unholy Behemoth” is riffier, more insistent, and pulls back from the intangible melody of the organ on “Heavy Blanket” and “Vast Acid” to feature a somewhat darker take. Taylor carries the verses easily in slower pace, but “Unholy Behemoth” picks up in its second half to a more familiar boogie, leading to the grainy ’70s bikerisms of “Demons,” which signals its tension through Stewart‘s hi-hat early and cuts back as it approaches the halfway point to establish a back and forth of pace that plays out again on a smaller scale, capping with a slowed-down deconstruction, the undercurrent of keys winding up the last remaining element of prominence along with some amplifier hum. That leaves only “Valley of the Snake” remaining, and the seven-minute closer is the highlight of the record that bears its name. Like “Tomorrow Never Comes,” it starts with a foundation of acoustic guitar, but stylistically it’s a departure from just about everything else on the album, unfolding with a grace that speaks more to Fleetwood Mac than Uncle Acid, further progressive sensibilities showing up in the full-weight apex — is that a line of flute? — that follows the hypnotic earlier pastoralisms. I’m not sure a complete album in that style would work, but “Valley of the Snake” speaks more to the potential of Ruby the Hatchet than anything before it in balancing heavy acid rock and unashamed pop grandiosity. They finish big, as they’d almost have to, and end their second album with a debut’s hopefulness for what future risk-taking might bring. Whether or not “Valley of the Snake” becomes a model in style or method will have to remain to be seen, but the closer demonstrates plainly the band’s potential and just what it is they might bring to the sphere of heavy psychedelia going forward. Some will cling to the catchy familiarity of the first couple tracks, and I won’t argue against that, but to hear what Ruby the Hatchet really have working for them, one might find it worth the effort to dig a little deeper.