Desert Storm, Forked Tongues: A Bustle in Your Rock Fury

Posted in Reviews on March 2nd, 2011 by JJ Koczan

I’ve been back and forth for a while now with Forked Tongues, the second full-length offering from Oxford, UK, heavy rock outfit Desert Storm. The nine-song album runs through a host of American styles, mostly related to Southern metal and the conventions thereof, but ultimately comes across confused as to where it wants to be stylistically. Desert Storm, a double-guitar, single-vocal five-piece in the metal tradition, seem to have one foot in the riffy metal of Down and Black Label Society, and another in the groovy blues-based licks of Clutch, but there’s little to discern from Forked Tongues (which is released on the band’s own Buried in Smoke Records and follows a 2008 self-titled) that belongs to Desert Storm alone, and especially in the area of Matt Ryan’s vocals, there’s just too much coming down on the side of affectation to really be believable at this point in their career. The songs, mostly led by guitarists Chris White (lead) and Ryan Cole (rhythm), are well-constructed, but they’re constructed of material so familiar that, with a few exceptions, it’s hard for the tracks on Forked Tongues to hold my attention.

Those exceptions come mostly in the form of middle cuts “Smokes ‘n’ Liquor” and “The Jackal,” which, although straightforward in structure and not really innovative stylistically (which, as I’ve said before, isn’t necessarily a requirement for well done heavy rock), belong mostly to Desert Storm. “The Jackal” especially is a catchy, nod-worthy piece with an arrangement vocally that is unmatched throughout the rest of Forked Tongues. But to get to that point, one has first to wade through the rough opening trio of “Cosmic Drips,” “Ol’ Town” and “South We Roll.” “Cosmic Drips,” in its immediate impression, is about as close to Earthride as I’ve heard anyone come. That’s offset as the song progresses by a Down II vibe and the guest soul backing vocals of Lauren Hayes, who also appears on “Ol’ Town.” Ryan changes his vocals from “whiskey-soaked” to cleaner for the choruses, and I find the second to be a far more natural fit for both his voice and the song. As much as that song is drenched in swampy bayou waters, “Ol’ Town” follows the Clutch start-stop formula in the guitars – Elliot Cole on drums and Chris Benoist on bass doing their damnedest to keep things interesting in the rhythm section – and Ryan follows suit on vocals, channeling Neil Fallon’s throaty semi-spoken delivery à la Pure Rock Fury. With “South We Roll,” there’s a surprisingly metal turn, the guitar tones becoming heavier in the traditional sense and the drum sounds switching from the more natural sound of the first two songs to a more canned feel. Ryan growls over chugging riffs, and for the first time on Forked Tongues, but not the last, I begin to wonder what exactly Desert Storm are shooting for in terms of aesthetic. White pulls out a good solo following a breakdown and bridge, with Ryan repeating the chorus overhead, and there’s no shortage of action, but none of it is especially engaging.

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