Beelzefuzz, Beelzefuzz: All the Feeling Returns

There’s really no getting around it: Beelzefuzz have a silly name. It’s a silly name that’s been kicking around the heart of the Maryland doom scene for the last couple years, and across two demos and appearances at fests like Stoner Hands of Doom, Eye of the Stoned Goat and Days of the Doomed, as well a regular host of other gigs in and around the Frederick, MD, sphere, it’s a silly name that has come with an increasingly potent reputation. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (the latter also of Pale Divine) have quickly hit on an individual approach, rooted in a deeply melodic, progressive wizard doom that’s brought to life on stage through live double-tracking of Ortt‘s vocals and a range of effects that show up on the album as well, from the dense classic-heavy fuzz of Kirby‘s bass to compression on the singing and some manner of alchemy in the guitar that turns it into a Hammond organ. All of this enriches and deepens the atmosphere live as well as on Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut full-length, released by The Church Within Records, and quickly into the album, it becomes clear that Beelzefuzz are offering something different from the standard post-The Obsessed/Pentagram riff-and-chug of Maryland doom.

Certainly those elements are there, but whether it’s the gallop that begins the album with opener and highlight “Reborn” or the more stoner shuffle that drives “Sirens Song,” Beelzefuzz present their material in such a way as to create an aesthetic of their own from these familiar parts — as much as one could reasonably hope for from a single record and more than one could generally ask of a debut. Across a relatively brief eight-track/36-minute span, the band casts a richly melodic ambience that’s somewhat thicker tonally than they have been live in my experience, but recorded largely by the venerable Chris Koslowski, it still represents the quirk in their turns and the breadth of their influence well, Ortt emerging as a frontman presence even without the benefit of the widened eyes with which he often regards his audience from the stage. There are flashes of complex brilliance, as “Hypnotize” and “Lonely Creatures” can attest, and even in the shorter, more straightforward pieces like “Lotus Jam” and “Sirens Song,” Beelzefuzz don’t sound quite like anyone or anything else out there. Silly name or not, they’re something special.

While that’s true, there’s also very little about them that’s flashy, or that seems intent on reinventing the genre from whence they come. Because of the deeply developed aesthetic and because of how strong their grip on it is as they play through what it’s somewhat shocking to think of as their first album, I’m inclined not to think they’re not aware of what they’re doing musically, but perhaps Beelzefuzz‘s goal isn’t innovation so much as having a good time and this is simply how they do it. If that’s the case, it bodes doubly well going forward, but in the meantime, with their self-titled the three-piece keeps to a consistent atmosphere that’s both dense and doomly but still somewhat hopeful, a dark, dank room that lets light in when the sun hits just the right position. Ortt can’t resist a medieval-drinking-song rhythm for the verses of “All the Feeling Returns” and I hear nothing in the track that would make me want him to, and by the time they get around to the penultimate “Lunar Blanco,” the brooding transitions and tension-release chorus seem to be a methodology they’ve long since mastered.

Several of these songs appeared on their demos — “Reborn,” “Lotus Jam,” “All the Feeling Returns,” “Lunar Blanco” and closer “Light that Blinds” — but the professional production adds heft and the band’s subsequent gigging experience shows itself in an overarching confidence audible from the earliest thrust of “Reborn,” which gets underway started by McCloskey as the guitar and bass feedback and soon opens to an immediate mover of a verse. An otherworldly feel — not psychedelic, but far from terrestrial — pervades immediately and is maintained over the course of the record, but what really stands “Reborn” out from its surroundings and makes is such an effective opener is the strength and resonance of its hooks, which arrive in both verse and chorus resulting in a whole that, with lyrics nodding at Spirit Caravan (“I wanted to experience the elusive truth…”), immerses the listener in the environment that Beelzefuzz have crafted: A dewy pre-dawn set in shades of blue and grey and green. The album isn’t short on memorable stretches, but they picked the right one to put first, and “Lotus Jam” follows well with interwoven layers of guitar and bass over a steady beat, Ortt‘s vocals taking a commanding tone for the chorus, “Your wicked warriors turn to dust/The sands of time would never wait/The metal legions lie in rust/Mortality accept your fate.”

Best of all on Beelzefuzz, “Lotus Jam” emphasizes the band’s ability to turn a straightforward verse/chorus structure into something that’s both classic sounding and fresh. They show a weirder side in “All the Feeling Returns,” foreshadowing some of the shifts they’ll make soon enough on “Hypnotize” and “Lonely Creatures,” and had I not seen them live, I’d probably credit the depth of tone and layering in Ortt‘s vocals to studio flash, but it’s not. With Kirby and McCloskey holding together a build in the chorus, the music suddenly cuts out mid-“yeah,” which Ortt cuts sharply to allow for instrumental resurgence. It’s one of those moments on the record — and there are a few — that’s a small thing that goes a long way in cluing the listener in to how developed Beelzefuzz already are; no doubt so many vocalists would’ve held that “yeah” till their voices gave out. Ortt serves the song better by cutting it, allowing for a full pause before the next verse starts. In its midsection, “All the Feeling Returns” transitions to a dreamier break, the title-line delivered along the way, and though it doesn’t return to the verse and chorus it came from, the turn is still flowing enough to make sense.

The line “Softly we fell through the sky” ends with an effect that seems to make the final word shine, and a section of chugging guitar and more subdued vocals ensues, McCloskey opening up on his crash as Kirby keeps his bass in lockstep march with the guitar until the ending cymbal wash and rumble carries into the slide that starts the quiet intro to “Sirens Song.” Kirby feels more present in the mix initially because the guitar is softer and the vocals, when they come in, match, but as the track approaches the minute mark and its shuffle takes hold, a balance is struck. Vocally, Ortt puts off some of the soulful belting-it-out he’s shown thus far in favor of a quieter take that lends depth to the band’s aesthetic overall — neither he nor they need to do the same thing all the time. Once the groove arrives, Beelzefuzz stick to it in both verses and choruses for most of the remainder, but some choice prog soloing late into the track adds flair and, again, depth as they wind down to the final crashes, a full stop giving “Hypnotize” a bed of silence on which to unwind its creepy introduction.

At 7:09, “Hypnotize” accounts for the longest track on Beelzefuzz, and a decent portion of its additional runtime comes from the introduction, which lasts roughly two minutes before the guitar starts the riff that will lead through the verse. The intro probably could have been its own track, but the conceptual weight it adds to “Hypnotize” works well in the context of the song itself — the arrival of that riff really feels like an arrival — and in the midsection they refer back to the oozing, suitably hypnotic beginnings. In terms of the overall effectiveness of “Hypnotize,” it stands with “Reborn” and the subsequent “Lonely Creatures” as one of the high points of Beelzefuzz, and though it’s been around for a while and they’ve been playing it live since 2011, in its studio form it is marked out for both the confidence of its delivery and the fact that it seems generally to hit harder, particularly in terms of McCloskey‘s drums, which create more of a wash with the cymbals and more direct thud with the kick drum during the winding, chugging verse. All that is not to mention its two-part chorus, each piece of which would be a landmark on its own and when taken one into the next provide the album’s moment of greatest infectiousness, Ortt‘s vocals soaring both in the lines of the chorus proper and “whoa”s that follow. Breaking to single hits measured out by McCloskey on the bell of his ride, Beelzefuzz once again call back to the intro, albeit in a manner much, much heavier.

That stomp also serves to set the tone for “Lonely Creatures,” which bases its core around heavy-landing, insistent instrumental push — bam. bam. bam. — with a bit of swing thrown in for good measure, resulting in a demented kind of almost-waltz, Ortt moving his voice to a lower register initially; part carnival barker and part snake oil salesman. The nod is irresistible. “Lonely Creatures” might be Beelzefuzz at their most progressively weird, but even here they don’t lose sight of the overarching feel of the album, and as the stomp opens up to the chorus, it’s easy to follow the band. McCloskey gives a sub-military snare march to a short, quiet break as Kirby introduces the next phase and Ortt plucks quietly, and a chorus gives way to the same break, this time topped with an intricate, classical-sounding solo. The chorus returns and trades off again with the solo, but “Lonely Creatures” makes its triumph in the reentry of the stomping progression with which it opened and has, by this time, come so far. As one almost couldn’t help but to do, they slam each hit as Ortt tops with eerie “oooh”s and the album finds a brief but righteous apex.

Through its slower, more definitively doomed opening and into a descending verse, “Lunar Blanco” inevitably feels like a comedown from “Lonely Creatures,” and that seems to be the band’s intent, but the subtlety with which the penultimate song on Beelzefuzz unfolds its verse and chorus and the fluidity of its changes nonetheless further underscores just how little Beelzefuzz are beholden to one sonic ideology over another. That chorus is also a sleeper, and particularly after repeat listens, imprints itself, the lines, “That’s the promise that we have made/Locked in cages left entombed/And the secrets that we keep inside/The empty canvas of the moon,” reminding that there may yet come a day when a member of our species might be able to bring up that celestial body in a rock song without being immediately relatable to or derivative of Pink Floyd. Atmospherically, its subdued heaviness also marks it out from the other cuts on the album, whether it’s the more rocking “Reborn” and “All the Feeling Returns” or the grooving post-intro chug of “Hypnotize.” So while it’s a comedown in adrenaline from “Lonely Creatures,” stylistically Beelzefuzz are still expanding their reach. With the finale in “Light that Binds,” the soloing begins almost immediately and the concluding feel is palpable. Faster paced than “Lunar Blanco,” it’s also more upbeat in terms of mood, and its two-line chorus of “Let the haunting cries of your truth/Ring on forevermore” finds the last line sustained over more engaging lead work.

All this doesn’t necessarily lead to a lighthearted feel, like Beelzefuzz are ending off clowning around so as to undo some of the heavy-handedness of the album preceding, but there’s a definite contrast in vibe between “Lunar Blanco” and the closer. In short, it sounds like the Ortt, Kirby and McCloskey are leading the way out of that place, that environment they’ve made — the sun coming up higher to turn the pre-dawn blues and greens to more vibrant yellows and sepia. With by-now familiar “ooh”s for melodic embellishments, Ortt gives a last-minute burst of soul in the final verses, layering on top of the solo that eventually rises to pied-piper the way out of the track and album as a whole, Kirby and McCloskey holding firmly to the chorus progression that’s also served as an outro no less fitting as that of “Reborn” was to open. Between the symmetry of its bookends, the flow within and between the tracks, the memorable songwriting, confident, assured performances and heavy, crisp and natural production, Beelzefuzz is among the most promising debuts I’ve heard in American doom for some time. It was one I was greatly anticipating, and it has more than surpassed my expectations, leaving me with little doubt its appeal will stand as one of the year’s best outings, and more importantly than some place on some list, a record that will continue to deliver a unique listening experience for years to come. Had I not seen them live several times beforehand or heard their demo material, I might not have had the context to fully appreciate it, but ultimately, I don’t care how about how everyone else comes aboard or how silly the band’s name is. This shit is awesome. Recommended.

Beelzefuzz, “Reborn” official video

Beelzefuzz on Thee Facebooks

The Church Within

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