Skrogg, Raw Heat: Heavy Like Granite

From the state that brought forth the slogan “Live Free or Die,” a mountain shaped like an old man’s face, Laconia Bike Week and Scissorfight come the burly grooves of Skrogg. They have some post-Clutch riff-led beard-fodder – think Omegalord, Sugar Daddie, Borracho – in common with the Granite State Destroyers, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part. Either way, the rock on Skrogg’s five-song Raw Heat EP (Drug Rug Records) is mean but fun and thoroughly boozed. At 29 minutes, it gives a firm showing of what will probably later seem like Skrogg’s rudimentary beginnings, but shows them as having the basics down when it comes to thick and heavy rock. The “These go to 11” This is Spinal Tap sample that precedes opening cut “Cajun Lady” acts as an immediate indicator that their hearts are in the right place, and the wah guitar of “Reverend” Jeff Maxfield (Tractorass) that kicks on to introduce the bouncing riff is steady confirmation. Mostly the material covers familiar ground thematically, with witches, space, motorcycles, etc., but Maxfield, who also handles vocals, seems well aware of the fact that these ideas have been presented before. For Skrogg on their first outing, it seems to be more about the riff and the nod than any kind of grandstanding.

And that suits Skrogg well on these five tracks, which are unpretentious enough to last longer than the half-hour listening to them requires. The “Cajun Lady” and “Anita Ride” follow similar structures and make the most of a catchy chorus, with bassist Jason “Jasper” Lawrence and drummer Felix Whitty filling out and nailing home the groove. “Anita Ride” cuts out after the solo section at about halfway through its 5:37 and moves back into its verse in a way that leaves the impression that Skrogg just weren’t sure how to make the transition, but the song’s strengths remain nonetheless, and Lawrence’s bass tone is definitely among them, adding wah funk to the central riff and veering into fills here and there while Whitty crashes behind. Maxfield’s vocals – he’s got a touch of the “stoner rock voice” going – are mixed high, and that holds true on Raw Heat’s bluesy title and centerpiece track, which takes a 12-bar structure and gives it a ride in Fu Manchu’s boogie van. At over seven minutes, it breaks following the third verse/chorus tradeoff into a long instrumental riff jam that culminates with a surprising smoothness (they could just as easily have let it fall apart and no one would think twice) that’s worthy of any next-gen stoner rock comparison you want to make of it. Maxfield takes a pronounced solo that cuts through the rough production surrounding, and comes back in time to meet Lawrence and Whitty for a single riff cycle that speaks to the precision and thought put into the arrangement of “Raw Heat,” no matter how jammed and loose it might otherwise feel.

Something about the main riff of “Cosmonaut,” which is faster and more turning in its verse, reminds me of Sigiriya, but I expect it’s coincidence more than direct influence. Lawrence again offers a standout performance here, and Skrogg seem to revert to the structural ideas of the first two tracks, if changed somewhat for the play with tempo. Despite the rough production across the whole release (it was self-recorded), Whitty’s cymbals sound neither too harsh or too low, and that comes through as he crashes his way along “Cosmonaut”’s chorus, making way later for the punkish speediness of the song’s ending, which leads into the “Electric Funeral”-ized beginning of “Evil Eye.” Skrogg’s love of Sabbath was never really a matter of question, but as they demonstrate it anyway, it seems the elements are all there for the band and it’s just a matter of their letting them stew and grow over the course of time. Raw Heat closes with one last hook in “Evil Eye,” and finishes strong with propulsive riffing and drumming, leading to a clip from Back to the Future: “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud,” to bookend the Christopher Guest sample at the start of “Cajun Lady.”

If Raw Heat was a full-length, Skrogg would need to do more to change up their approach, either adding more variety in terms of structure or general approach, but as an EP, and especially as their first EP, the songs here do what they need to in informing listeners what the band is going for in terms of sound. They’re going for rock. And they get it. So kudos to them on that. New Hampshire has a long and fierce legacy of independent thought, and listening to Raw Heat, Skrogg sound like they could easily get to the point where they’re a part of it. They’re not there yet, but they could be.

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