Weedeater’s Jason… the Dragon: The Pun Will Rise Again

As a dickhead Northeastern liberal college boy, my impulse when it comes to North Carolinian sludgers Weedeater is to see their dirt-worshiping malevolence as some form of high art. This held true with 2007’s excellent God Luck and Good Speed, but perhaps the drive has never been so present as it is with their latest, Jason… the Dragon. An album born of blown-off toes and broken bones, it’s Weedeater’s fourth overall, second for Southern Lord, and backed by stunning Arik Roper artwork and the formidable and live-sounding production of the venerable Steve Albini, it does a hell of a job marrying Weedeater’s aural fuck-all to a tradition of creatively naturalist Southern nihilism that goes back to Delta blues and Robert Johnson. For their part, Weedeater play that up on a song like “Palms of Opium,” where it’s mainly the drugs keeping the track from being all-out acoustic blues – frontman/bassist “Dixie” Dave Collins’ vocal delivery, though somewhat dialed back, is another key factor – and they seem to make the most out of the growing mythology of Southern metal. Whether that’s conscious or not, I haven’t a fucking clue, but for the 34-minute duration of Jason… the Dragon, it sure works.

Weedeater’s time-tested formula of “if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing on NyQuil” is in full effect throughout Jason… the Dragon, and Collins’ bass drives many of the band’s plundering grooves, like that of the memorable “Long Gone” or the six-minute centerpiece title-track, noises that sound like either he or guitarist Dave Shepherd bumping a microphone popping here and there, as on earlier, faster cuts “Hammerhandle” and “Mancoon.” The aforementioned “Palms of Opium” hits as an appropriate change of pace after  “Jason… the Dragon,” giving a Ween-style air of weirdness to the album where intro “The Great Unfurling,” with its sampled preaching, more or less just affirmed the overarching Southern-ness. More than the clever plays on expectation, however, what Weedeater genuinely do better on Jason… the Dragon than they’ve ever done before, is write good songs. God Luck and Good Speed had a couple standouts in its titular opener or “Dirt Merchant,” but almost across the board, Jason… the Dragon is built on a foundation of solid songwriting. To be fair, “Long Gone” and “Turkey Warlock” were included on the Crushers Killers Destroyers II compilation in 2004, but as Collins spews the lines on the latter, “Too bad, nice try/So sad, no lie/I think much less of you/But you know how I do,” in his now-trademark dry-throated rasp, it’s not just a novelty for its lack of bullshit, it’s also a catchy verse.

The flow of Jason… the Dragon is helped by the fact that the four songs after the intro and before “Palms of Opium” – namely “Hammerhandle,” “Mancoon,” “Turkey Warlock” and “Jason… the Dragon” – all bleed into each other, one to the next, making Side A feel more or less live, so that when the quirk of the record’s back half with “Palms of Opium” or drummer Keith Kirkum’s minute-long solo “March of the Bipolar Bear” comes on after “Long Gone,” you’re already so engrossed in what Weedeater are doing, you’re simply pulled along for the ride. For what it’s worth, “Long Gone” offers another catchy hook and groove, and were Jason… the Dragon’s high point not still to come, “Long Gone” would almost certainly be it. The track doesn’t even come out of the speakers, it just oozes from the player. There should be a word for that… We’ll call it… “sludge.”

I just made that up. Just now.

The building tom hits of “March of the Bipolar Bear” set up hefty album highlight “Homecoming,” on which Shepherd’s guitar takes a somewhat brighter tone – more new territory for Weedeater – that plays excellently with Collins’ vocals, delivering not only the best riff of Jason… the Dragon, but another example of the band’s expanding reach. For this trio, to be doing sludge well is nothing new at this point. Weedeater has proven both on record and on stage that they can deliver pissed-off attitude atop a bed of drenching fuzz, but to hear them branch out beyond what they’ve done before on “Homecoming” is refreshing and encouraging, showing some agency in their process and development in their style. And the song fucking rules too, in case I haven’t made that clear.

Maybe that’s what works best about Jason… the Dragon. It has its puns and its riffs, but more than that, it builds on what has always been appealing about Weedeater without sacrificing that same appeal. The plucked-banjo and rain finale “Whiskey Creek” gives way to silence after about two and a half minutes, leading to a hidden track of bluesy harpsichord (one has to wonder of those words have ever appeared next to each other before) that wraps up the album. They may have gotten more adventurous in the last few years, but Weedeater still have a firm sense of what makes them who they are, and that comes across both on the straightforward first half and the more exploratory Side B of Jason… the Dragon. If you’ve never been able to get into Weedeater, some of these new (or at least more prevalent) elements might change your mind, and if you’re a longtime fan, you don’t need me to tell you that this should be one of your most anticipated releases of 2011. I don’t know whether or not it’s high art, but it’s the best record Weedeater have put together yet.

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7 Responses to “Weedeater’s Jason… the Dragon: The Pun Will Rise Again”

  1. Mike H says:

    This is one of my most anticipated releases this year. I was anticipating it all of last year too. Ah then there were the broken bones and blown off toes…

    I have gone back to God Luck and Good Speed consistently over the years. It was one of my favorites that year and has stayed near the top ever since.

    The only thing I’ve read here that mums me out is the album is only 34 minutes. With all the delays they should have had enough material for twice that…at least. Oh well. Maybe that is part of what make she album so good. They leave you wanting more perhaps? I’m sure I will.

    Excellent review. First one I have read for this and I am more stoked now that before.

  2. add says:

    oh yeah this is gonna be where it is at

  3. dogmaofdespair says:

    Curse you! This is only making me crave this album more and it’s still nearly two months away! I am excited. Weedeater can almost do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. They’re like the Grateful Dead of the stoner/doom/sludge world or something.

  4. Freedom says:

    Good review. I can’t wait to hear this album. I haven’t been more stoked for an album in a long time.

  5. goAt says:

    My Screwdriver just tasted a little sweeter.

    …and 34 minutes of drunken hedonistic/nihilistic bliss is 34 more minutes than I had before.

    Roper is the shit. I’d buy a Maroon 5 album if he did the art, no shit man.

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