Deadsmoke, Deadsmoke: Alpine Lumber (Plus Full Album Stream)

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[Stream Deadsmoke’s Deadsmoke by clicking play above. Album out March 25 on Heavy Psych Sounds.]

The name of the game is plod. Deadsmoke, a newcomer trio from Italy who formed last year and already count themselves as veterans of Duna Jam, play it well on their self-titled debut. Released through Heavy Psych Sounds as arguably the most doomed release the imprint has issued, Deadsmoke‘s Deadsmoke lumbers under massive tonal heft, offering five tracks in a relatively brief 30-minute span that feels like more because of the impact of its material. Channeling Conan and Ufomammut across earlier cuts like opener “Branches of Evil” and “Eyes of the Blind Man,” the album deepens its breadth as it plays out through “Liar Behind Me,” “Tornado” and “Night of the Vipers,” but holds firm to the spacious aggression shown in its early stretches.

Contextually, the artwork of a dark mountain scene, barren winding road, no colors, snow on the ground, makes sense as a complement to the Alpine weight of the tracks themselves, and while the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Matteo Lescio, bassist Gianmaria and drummer Maurice Belloti are still potentially in a nascent stage of development, they successfully avoid the trap of falling into line with post-Electric Wizard doom while expanding their basic sonic reach into psychedelia. Treatment of Matteo‘s voice, which shouts up from a trench of dense┬átones, adds to the spaces Deadsmoke create, but there really isn’t a moment in the five songs that the riff isn’t leading the way. That, of course, is the whole idea.

Repetition works out to be one of the most effective weapons in Deadsmoke‘s arsenal, and that, along with some of the use of synth/effects later in the record and the blown-out feel of the vocals in “Branches of Evil,” draws a line directly to Ufomammut as an influence. There are far worse acts to be working off of, frankly, and as they chug out the main riff in the opening track, Deadsmoke do so with flourishes of feedback, samples, effects and other sundry noises that add to the individual impression, though it’s not until halfway through the opener, when the chanting-style singing begins, that a fuller distinction is made. Touchstones in Monolord, Toner Low, and other bands whose largesse is a point of definition. “Branches of Evil” rolls to a finish and “Eyes of the Blind Man” seems to nod directly at Conan‘s “Crown of Talons” at its start, though it’s not long before it establishes its own vibe, again thanks in no small part to the vocals.

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Like the opener, the pace is slow, deliberate and punctuated by low-toned snare as the vocals swap between cleaner singing, shouts and screams, the latter of which comes most forward in the second half as the guitar, bass and drums drop out for a measure and the abrasion hits in full force. The second track is the shortest at 4:41, but leaves a memorable impression nonetheless as its finish sweeps into the opening of centerpiece “Liar Behind Me,” more chugging and rumbling taking hold, but this time pushed faster. Particularly doomed as a foreshadow of “Night of the Vipers” still to come, “Liar Behind Me” also begins to shift the focus away from the raw tonal onslaught of “Branches of Evil” and “Eyes of the Blind Man” through an ambient break about 90 seconds in, steady drums topped with a quick tripped-out solo before the thrust resumes. It’s a brief interlude, but it effectively sets the stage for “Tornado” and “Night of the Vipers” on side B, and so serves as a fitting centerpiece.

In some ways, it’s a sign of both underlying consciousness and mercy that the album is only a half-hour long. Yes, repetition is an important factor, but even on “Tornado,” which creeps out its opening and establishes a central groove from there without letting go for its seven-minute span (the longest included here), one could hardly accuse Deadsmoke of overdoing it, and that sense of balance works greatly to their benefit. That, coupled with the gallop early, experiments in vocals — vague whispers, maybe samples, etc. — and the wash of psych guitar noise that emerges late — not to mention the bassline — makes “Tornado” both the stylistically boldest and most satisfying individual cut, and it too offers plenty of stomp, particularly in its repetitively marching midsection, stomping its way toward the aforementioned guitar wash with a chugging ritualism that rounds out to let the bass open “Night of the Vipers,” also nearly seven minutes long but darker in its overall direction.

Harsher vocals return to tie the album together, and “Night of the Vipers” seems to take a cue from Pallbearer and/or Candlemass in its mournful lead at the halfway point, which tops the excruciatingly slow pacing with an unexpected sense of emotionalism before the consuming whirlpool of fuzz resumes once again to draw Deadsmoke down to the album’s finish, which comes in a few final crashes and thuds and a minute or so of residual amp noise on an extended fade. It can be difficult for a band, especially for one so new, to mark itself out from prevalent modern influences, and where some groups spend years in the rehearsal room or in tiny bars, Deadsmoke are playing out the first levels of their progression here on this debut. I won’t say they don’t have growing to do, but the way they’ve structured their first album and the surehandedness with which they guide their aesthetic speak volumes as to their potential, and when it comes to anything voluminous, clearly Deadsmoke have it covered.

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