Nebulous as it is, the blend of influences at work on Vancouver sludge metallers Mendozza’s 2012 self-released, self-titled album still pales in comparison to the band’s backstory when it comes to a sense of mystery. Sure, elements show up in the tracks that take the Melvins-style drive the band showed on their 2007 White Rhino outing (reissued in 2009; review here) and make them way the hell spacious, feeding echoes in from who knows where amid Celtic Frost cavern yells emanated by way of mid-paced High on Fire belch, but most of that is easy to peg. On the other hand, Mendozza’s two earliest albums, 2005’s HMCS Uganda and 2006’s Illuminarius were well received enough to get the band included on the soundtrack to the second Underworld movie, but after White Rhino hit in ’07, they dropped their successive-year release pattern and waited three before putting out the ultra-scuffed Billy Anderson-produced Cobra Noche in 2010. Most startling of all, however, is that Mendozza, which was mixed by Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, etc.), seems to be going for an entirely different sludged-out feel, and where “Testament of Hate” from that album was so head-down mechanized-sounding it bordered on Ministry, in comparison, the songs this time around are slower, riffier and more esoteric, unspeakably loud but still deep in the mix, so that however much metallic chugging it has in its verse, “Ayahuasca” opens up to a genuine stoner rock riff in its chorus, satisfying even as it confuses.
Couple that with the noms de guerre the trio has adopted for themselves – Deuce on vocals/guitar, The Judge on bass and Master Beater (get it?) on drums – and the plot thickens further, almost fattened to the point of the lumbering groove that commences Mendozza’s Mendozza with “Ligature.” Deuce starts Melvins-style on the vocals, but soon shows diversity of approach with screams, playing the one off the other smoothly for the remainder of the song and even managing to work some melody in the guitar as Master Beater’s cymbals flesh out the mix. “Ayahuasca” is faster, but however much Mendozza change up the tempo, they never seem to lose their crushing sensibility – and for that, although it’s not nearly as dirty-sounding, Mendozza is a heavier record than was Cobra Noche, its nearest comparison point. To wit, “Spirit Horse” couples post-Neurosis churn as interpreted by Mastodon with a Zoroaster-style wash, sounding not so much like any of those three bands particularly as a result, but delightfully massive all the same. The main riff in “Spirit Horse” is more angular than, say, the intro of “Ayahuasca,” but that only winds up adding to its effectiveness as it’s remade into a building stoner jam in the song’s second half. As the second longest cut at 8:43 behind closer “Wishful Drinking”’s 8:57, “Spirit Horse” is also one of the most immersive tracks on Mendozza, with Master Beater keeping time on her ride cymbal and punctuating riff cycles with crashes while The Judge pockets the low end and Deuce rips what feels like an endlessly fading solo. When in doubt, go heavy. Mendozza don’t sound like they’re in doubt here, but they went heavy anyway.