BLUE HERON – Ephemeral

At the tail end of 2021, a new stoner band appeared over the musical horizon. Blue Heron were incredibly heavy, and yet conveyed broad atmospheres within their world of darkness. It was clear from their two track debut that they weren’t just another sludgy doom and stoner vehicle hacking out weighty riffs.

Their full length debut really capitalises on that early promise, and ‘Ephemeral’ not only presents some brilliantly heavy stoner sounds, it further demonstrates Blue Heron’s gift for a bluesy outlook that is sometimes called upon to give the best material a lift. The melodic elements of their distorted, heavy sound are immediately clear from the moment the opening number ‘Futurola’ emerges from the speakers with a riff that calls back to the absolute heaviest end of the Clutch musical arsenal. By immediately overlaying that with a louder, bluesier lead, the band are keen to accentuate their desert rock interests above the usual sludge, but its with the arrival of a vocal, the melodic heart becomes most obvious. Frontman Jadd adopts a clean yet gruff croon that’s perfect for the job in hand. He sounds like the archetypal bearded storyteller as he attempts to be heard through the rising wall of sound, and in Blue Heron’s quest for musical interest, the way they’ve managed to mix elements of Clutch, Tad and Melvins seamlessly shows a genuine knack for arranging. As the groove intensifies, so too does the distortion and fuzz, but never in a way that’s at the expense of a great, heavy melody. The main hook presents something that sounds like Crowbar reworking Sweet Oblvion era Screaming Trees (a fact maid plainer by the words “sweet oblivion” being allowed to soar above the swamp like an obvious beacon) and this gives the swampy, bluesy doom metal heart an extra layer of retro coolness, but for those looking for the ultimate in heaviness, the best is yet to come when a sludgebeast of a coda drops some of Blue Heron’s most intense riffs this time out. Here, the band revert to a few typically doomy traits, but there’s still plenty in their approach that hints at some great musicianship.

Less accessible, ‘Sayonara’ opens with a massive slab of sludge which is dragged mercilessly across several minutes, at first making the listener fear that the duration will be devoted to this unrelenting noise. Often sounding like an old 20 Watt Tombstone played back at half speed, it’s for sludge obsessives only, but even then, the gruff Southern tones of the vocal bleeding through a grumbling juggernaut of riffs has its own charm, and if you can make it through the first four minutes, the presence of a spooky, howling lead guitar part shows how Blue Heron still value atmospheres even when cranking everything at full volume. For the even more patient, there’s the reward of a superb twist somewhere around the mid point, and the heaviness subsides to give a brilliant platform to some wandering desert rock. For the remainder, a Josh Homme meets Tony Iommi inspired lead guitar weaves in and out of one of Geezer Butler’s old bass grooves, creating some mightily trippy stoner blues, and its a brilliant showcase from all involved. No matter how long it seems to go on for – for some, that might feel like forever – there’s a genuine thrill to be immersed in a world of floaty bass noise punctuated by reverbed blues, almost like experiencing The Groundhogs, Sabbath and the heavy psych of Electric Octopus coming together, supergroup style.

‘Push The Sky’ reverts to a heavier sound, but introduces a more groove laden feel with almost tribal influenced drums used to power a very Kyuss-centric riff. The way the heavy toms are used to give the rhythm a really buoyant feel is impressive – certainly worthy of a drummer like Alfredo Hernandez – but the track’s best elements are supplied by a fantastic dual vocal where bluesy cries are augmented by occasionally metallic wails and a grubby guitar which dances almost gleefully between dirty grooves and blues inflected howls. In short, there’s very little within these four minutes that genre fans won’t have heard before, but likewise, that creates something that most will love in an instant. And with the close of the number delving into some brilliantly heavy sludge, it adds something incredibly intense to an album that’s already shaping up to be pretty damn weighty.

‘The Buck’ kicks off with a brilliant bass groove and overdriven chords that somehow manage to make elements of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘When The Levee Breaks’ work in tandem with a bassline inspired by an old Jane’s Addiction number, before exploding into a moody stoner romp where the vocal grit is a perfect match for the music. Across six minutes, Blue Heron champion their bluesier side with ease – often sounding more like the ghosts of Dead Meadow than Kyuss – but via a superb riff and another climax that takes everything towards sludge metal, there’s a burning anger within the performance that will certainly appeal to anyone coming at the recording from a metal fan’s perspective. The angry vocals certainly pack a punch when required, but it’s the bluesy leads – driven by distortion and fuzz, naturally – that’ll leave the strongest impression.

An acoustic interlude, ‘Where One Went Together’, shows yet another side to the band with some stripped down sounds that hint at a love for the Alice In Chains ‘Unplugged’ set, but also reaching for some more traditional roots. In an out in two minutes, it barely finds its feet before it has gone, but in providing a little respite before the next onslaught of sledgehammer riffing, it does a perfect (and very important) job. ‘Salvage’, meanwhile, closes an epic journey with a disquieting, slow workout that sounds like an obvious homage to Alice In Chains’ “dog” LP. The musical core is then peppered with guttural roars and a backwoods blues metal anger that taps into the underground stoner metal sounds of cult bands like Boozewa layered with the speaker-breaking distortion loved by the likes of Conan. Again, Blue Heron show an easy knack of taking two or three obvious influences and mixing them in a way that sounds distinctly their own. It’s never easy listening, but in terms of force, riffs, and general crunch, they never sound less than bloody awesome.

Making a return appearance, the band’s debut single sits very well among the less familiar material. An instantly classic slab of stoner upon release in December ’21, ‘Black Blood of The Earth’ fades in with the howling desert wind, before a furious rumble of drums introduces a very busy sound. The relentless drumming continues throughout the first verse against Chav’s buzzing, Kyuss-esque guitar parts, and although everything is a little noisier than your bog standard Fu Manchu derived sound, it’s immediately clear that the band are waist deep in a winning groove. Jadd’s gravelly vocal style on this number – sort of a stoner/hardcore hybrid – will certainly be more divisive, but there’s a lot about its aggressive tendencies that is suited the full on mood, especially when set against that drum part. A chorus hook (of sorts) ushers in far more melody with a standard stoner groove and clean vocal, and this will win Blue Heron fans even if the style is of the tried and tested variety. By the mid point, everyone wades through some Sabbath influenced doom, with a slow, almost bluesy take on some monolithic metal, but again, this is handled with the utmost precision, sounding like the work of musicians with the stoner ethic pulsing through their veins The slower riffs have a brilliant buzz; distorted edges give a feel for how loud things must’ve been in the studio, and a slow, confident lead guitar break adds so much to the over-riding melodic core of the piece. Via several bars of heavy groove that would put Crowbar in the shade, the band arrives at a second solo that really ups the blues laden vibe, and although by the end of the track, the band end up in a completely different headspace to their noisy origins, the playing – and general atmosphere – is superb.

With a mix of dark and bluesy heaviness, some pure sludge, and vocals ranging from the clean and moody to the guttural and intense, Blue Heron cover a lot of doomy musical ground on this LP. If nothing else, it shows how the roots of Sabbath, Alice In Chains and Kyuss never wear thin as influences, but for those paying closer attention, this is the kind of record that demonstrates how such obvious influences can still be moulded into semi-inventive, very exciting shapes. For those who love Kyuss and a whole raft of classic 90s stoner, as well as Earthless, Mothership, and the more experimental end of dark distorted blues akin to King Buffalo, then this is definitely worth seeking out at the earliest opportunity.

April/May 2022