Sandrider, Godhead: Of Beasts and Tides

There was little to argue against on Sandrider‘s late-2011 self-titled full-length debut (review here). The first outing from the Seattle trio of guitarist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski, bassist/vocalist Jesse Roberts and drummer Nat Damm was intense, intricate and at times pummeling — a lethal churn of controlled chaos, deceptively tight for how loose its grooves seemed to swing. Good to Die Records, who also issued the first album, releases the follow-up, Godhead, this month, and it finds Sandrider in much the same straits, taking a more rock-based approach to the explosive charge Weisnewski and Damm brought to their former outfit, Akimbo, while sounding even more like their own unit thanks to further cohesion as a trio with Roberts, whose own experience with swagger and abrasion in The Ruby Doe has made for an easy transition. The three-piece returned to work with Matt Bayles (IsisMastodon, many others), likely with the thought that if it wasn’t broke it didn’t require fixing, and they were right. Godhead develops Sandrider‘s approach as they showed it their first time out, with the title-track, “Overwatch” and “Beast” ranging further melodically than they might have dared with their initial run, and sticks to the upbeat push that made the self-titled both consistent with Damm and Weisnewski‘s later work in Akimbo and so irresistibly engaging. This second album isn’t a huge leap in sound, but it didn’t need to be. It’s a step in what thankfully appears to be an ongoing progression, and the growth they show in these 10 single-word-title songs feels natural, whether it’s Weisnewski‘s guitar leading a quiet, tense ambience in “Overwatch” — which of course precedes a relaunch to full volume — or the excellent vocal interplay with Roberts.

At just under 45 minutes, Godhead is about five minutes longer than was Sandrider, but nothing here reaches as close to the 10-minute mark as did “The Judge” from that album, the closest being “Godhead,” at 6:52, with the rest varying fairly widely from the West Coast punkish brevity of “Scalpel” — is Weisnewski saying, “This is my lucky pencil?” — at 2:31 to the more comfortable four-to-five-minute range in which reside “Castle, “Overwatch,” “Champions,” “Beast” and closer “Traveler.” As one would expect or at very least hope, Godhead is settled and cohesive in more than just the runtimes of its component tracks. They suggest listening loud, and they’re not wrong, but the record provides a few landmark hooks along the way that remain vital at any level they might be encountered, opener “Ruiner” being exceptionally well chosen for its position for both its “We Will Rock You” introductory buildup from Damm on drums or Weisnewski‘s pushing himself to hit a high note over a stop only to resume the crunching riff made all the more nod-ready by Roberts‘ low end. As Sandrider continue to establish themselves beyond the work of members’ other outfits, they do so without sounding forced. Damm features heavily on “Castle” and his snare and kick both sound as massive as any of the tones in the guitar and bass — he’s a whirl of insistent fills in the song and elsewhere, but finds resolution in more open and grooving moments, in the pocket of Roberts‘ bassline on “Tides,” for example, or driving the forward rush of “Champions.” Being longer than its predecessor has taken away some of the immediacy and the feeling that by the time you’ve caught up to it, it’s over, from Godhead, but hardly all of it, and Sandrider are capable of quick turns in rhythm and meter both within and between songs — see “Gorgon” and how it leads into the quieter start of the title cut — that give the material a vibrant, live feel despite the crisp production.

“Godhead” is a standout example of the band’s growth, and if there’s a story to the album that bears its name, then it’s also a fitting summation of that story — i.e., that Sandrider are continuing to come into their own as a unit and are proving themselves beyond their pedigree — and its descending riff is among the LP’s most infectious. It begs to be louder. At the same time, Weisnewski and Roberts‘ vocal harmonies in the chorus would seem to foreshadow where the band are headed, or at least the expansion of the dynamic they began to demonstrate on the self-titled, and though it heads toward seven minutes, Sandrider are hardly meandering. A quieter break about two-thirds of the way through keeps its motion thanks to Damm‘s steady drums and allows for a satisfying rebuild into a last chorus. In structure and in execution, it’s a highlight, and the high-pitched shrieks that end it are well earned. Side B’s “Overwatch” arrives at a similar melodic place, but takes a more linear route to get there, showing that even as the band continue to refine what they do, they’re challenging themselves as well. Like the first album, Godhead is made for repeat visits, and it proves no less righteous with them, the tonal gnarl of Weisnewski and Roberts becoming a kind of constant threat that crests and falls throughout the tracks, resulting in an overarching flow not to be understated, even though “Champions” and “Tides” and “Castle” feel like individual pieces. Everything serves its purpose, in other words, and where Sandrider already demonstrated their penchant for bending the chaos of their creation to their will, they do so with even more ease the second time around and come across deadlier for the mastery. They continue to impress with these songs, and if Godhead is capturing a stage in a longer, larger growth, then I’m all the more intrigued to see where that growth might be leading them.

Sandrider, Godhead (2013)

Sandrider on Thee Facebooks

Good to Die Records

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