Phoenix duo Goya and Seattle’s Wounded Giant make fitting partners. Their new split 12″ on STB Records finds them distinct enough to be immediately distinguished one from the other, but still with enough in common in their proliferation of plus-sized riffery not to be mismatched. In the case of Goya, the split follows their late-2013 full-length debut, 777, and the preceding 2012 demo (review here), and the (now) duo of guitarist/bassist/vocalist Jeff Owens and drummer Nick Lose have already seen fit to issue a follow-up EP, released Dec. 9, called Satan’s Fire. Their inclusion is the 14-minute plodder “No Place in the Sky,” where Wounded Giant deliver two tracks, “The Room of the Torch” and “Dystheist,” totaling a minute less. The Seattle three-piece of bassist Dylan A. Rogers, guitarist/vocalist Bobby James and drummer Alex Bytnar put out their debut full-length, Lightning Medicine, last year and supported it with an appearance at this year’s Hoverfest in Portland, Oregon. All told, the split is a 27-minute showcase for two up-and-coming acts who by all accounts have their sounds together and who’ve been met with no shortage of “whoa no shit heavy riffs bro!”-type hyperbole. Fair enough.
STB‘s endorsement is noteworthy in itself. The label has rightfully earned a reputation over the last two years for both its ear and the quality of its vinyl product. I don’t think they’ve put anything out that hasn’t been gone shortly thereafter, and releases from Ancient Warlocks, Geezer, Curse the Son and Druglord have put them on the map as a considerable presence in American underground heavy proffering a new wave of stoner rock in which it seems only right to count Goya and Wounded Giant as participants. The former are granted side A of the split, and they use their time wisely, “No Place in the Sky” building from a fade-in of feedback fuzz to a languid march that takes hold in full tone at 1:40. Their album and new EP are less so, but Goya‘s demo was almost singly indebted sonically to Electric Wizard, bringing a rawer feel to the Witchcult Today style, and “No Place in the Sky” works in a similar vein, its rhythmic swing and Owens‘ buried-under-a-wall-of-distortion echoing vocals both seem to be culled from Jus Oborn‘s book of spells. They’re hardly the only band out there at this point working under that influence, and they bring more to the presentation than many on “No Place in the Sky,” which lumbers through verse and chorus hooks en route to a bridge of Iommic layered soloing that very subtly hints at the level of construction at work in their sound. Their songwriting, likewise, finds a sense of accomplishment in returning after that jam to the verse and chorus — the lines “It doesn’t really matter/Nothing fucking matters” standing out — before jamming its way into oblivion and a finish of over a minute solid of sustained amp hum and feedback. Take that, ears.
Classic metal is the first vibe Wounded Giant give off on “The Room of the Torch” (7:07), James‘ guitar riffing out a declaration reminiscent of Iron Maiden, but that’s really only part of the story. Half-time drums give the beginnings of Wounded Giant‘s first inclusion a nod of its own with a punchy bassline and an emergent, airy lead that adds to the languid feel. A slowdown before two minutes in marks the transition into a doomier verse — not quite as Wizardly as Goya, but that’s still a factor — with shouts echoing over downer riffs that pick up to a more upbeat thrust of a chorus. The back and forth plays out until shortly before five minutes in, Bytnar‘s kick, double-kick only seconds before, provides the shift to the faster progression serving as the apex of the track. Like Goya, they rein it back in to finish out, albeit more subtly with just a slowdown instrumental reference to the verse riff that gives way to fading feedback and start of “Dystheist” (6:08), which sounds like a crowd shout but is gone soon enough into neo-burly chugging and more restrained vocals, compressed and following the riff. A more open chorus arrives underscored by more double-kick and a metallic feel met head-on with heavy rock tonality, the flourish of the preceding cut stripped away in favor of a more forward attack, which Wounded Giant handle well. A rawer shout, almost a scream, finishes the chorus and that will be the endpoint of “Dystheist” as well on the second cycle through — the structure no less frill-less than the sound, capping the split in strong, commanding form.
As the goal of the release, already noted, is to highlight what Goya and Wounded Giant have going sonically and to keep their momentum in motion, I see no way in which the split doesn’t meet that target. Both Goya‘s track and Wounded Giant‘s tracks deliver heavy-hitting, solid genre-minded executions and, paired up, they offer each band’s quickly-massing audience to encounter the other, which, you know, is the whole idea. The temptation with splits is always to pit one act against the other, to determine a “winner” like they’re in competition. Fine. That’s a lot of fun, but truth be told, nobody here loses, and it doesn’t seem like Goya or Wounded Giant have any interest in duking it out so much as allying themselves to further their individual causes. Score one for riff diplomacy.