Their chosen band name mightn’t stick out – and certainly isn’t search engine friendly – but if you should chance upon Volume, it’ll take all of four chords to get the measure of this stoner/retro metal band. Originally released in 2002, ‘Requesting Permission To Land’ didn’t get as much press attention as ‘…And The Circus Leaves Town’ by Kyuss a few years earlier, or the works of Orange Goblin and Fu Manchu, but its five tracks take as much of a classic approach. What’s more, Volume were also adept at revisiting the proto metal sounds of the late 60s and early 70s and injecting them with an even greater vigour, making their sole album as much about force as doom-laden weightiness. In short, for retro thrills, it’s great – the kind of thing that should have been picked up by Man’s Ruin Records (RIP), or championed by Josh Homme and been massive.
As the opening track ‘Habit’ finds its feet, the tough combination of fuzz guitars and overdriven drum sounds whips up a classic stoner storm. The riffs fall somewhere between early Kyuss and Acid King in a more melodic mood; the insanely loud drumming – courtesy of Fu Manchu’s Scott Reeder – conveys the same kind of intensity and huge reverb you’ve come to expect from Melvins man Dale Crover, and the vaguely doomy lead vocal sits well against the heaviness, despite not necessarily being the most melodic, even genre-wise. If that sounds fairly generic, then so be it; things don’t necessarily need a fancy twist to be cool, and here’s proof enough. As the assembled musicians work through a heavy groove with a bluesy lilt and a whole raft of fuzzed out guitar effects, Volume start to challenge some of the scene’s finest in terms of riffs, and Reeder fills plenty of space with an increasingly intense rhythmic blast. By the time the number reaches its peak with an absolute screecher of a lead guitar break, these volume dealers show such an affinity with a classic stoner metal sound, it feels as if this release has always been one of the scene’s best known, rather than a cult-ish curio. Eventually descending into a weird desert rock freakout to close, it’s also clear that main man Patrick Brink knows just as much about atmosphere as he does about Sabbath-ish force, which stands the rest of the material in good stead.
‘Colossalfreak’ clings on to the buzzing guitar sounds – played brilliantly here by Jay Christiansen – but increases everything, including the tempo, to create something that sounds like early Fu Manchu hammering through an old MC5 classic. Reeder’s drums suit the garage punk speeds, and he obviously relishes the opportunity to cut loose and smash the cymbals into oblivion, whilst – a little low in the mix – James Scoggins wrings the neck of his bass as if channelling Black Flag’s Chuck Dukowski. The whole track settles into a garage punk/fuzz rock hybrid that’s more about attitude than melodic charms, but there’s plenty in the way that Volume attacks their material that makes it exciting, despite sounding like a combination of its influences. For those who came for something stoner-oriented, the heavily affected lead guitar sounds from ‘Habit’ aren’t too far away, and a late shift into something a little more Kyuss influenced during the instrumental break ensures this will strike a chord with genre fans across the board.
In some ways, ‘Don’t Look Around’ is a little less interesting, as the music latches onto previously heard tropes, with Reeder dominating via an insanely loud drum part, but if you can make it past the bluster, there’s something even more retro in hand. On this chaotic rocker, the stoner sounds are tempered by occasional nods to the proto-metal of Steppenwolf and Blue Cheer, meaning that Christiansen’s guitar sound often has a great blues tone beneath the pure force, whilst keys man Brent Brandon makes his first appearance laying down massive swathes of swirling Hammond. It’s a sidestep from the typical Kyuss worship from the early 00s, but certainly benefits from that shift, despite Brink’s limited vocal skills descending into pure shouting. He’s taken a really raw approach to performing here, sure, but his obvious short comings still can’t wreck some superb, energy fuelled rock music, and in some ways, this relentless assault represents the heart of everything Volume were about.
After an intro where swirling synths set up a detached feeling, ‘Make Believe’ revisits some classic stoner metal guitar sounds, but takes them further beyond the usual Kyuss schtick with the aid of various neo-psych effects. The bass and drums sound as if they’re bleeding in from a different room, which forces the guitar further forward in the mix, whilst a world of phased effects and other tricks shift the main melodies even further towards the other worldly. What the listener experiences is a strange mix of ‘Tab’ era Monster Magnet colliding with a heavier version of classic Hawkwind, and with vast echoes slapped on the vocal, it shows how flawlessly Volume could’ve fit into the space rock bracket, if only they’d chosen to explore this avenue even further. Obviously, the array of studio trickery helps disguise some of Brink’s vocal limitations, too, which actually makes this one of the best tracks from their short career.
Last up, the fifteen minute tour de force ‘Headswim’ takes no prisoners from a heavy blues/stoner perspective. Making the best from a live in the studio sound, Reeder leads everyone into a slow groove, where Christiansen picks up with a heavy riff, peppered with heavy usage of a wah-wah pedal. The guts of the music quickly take the shape of a John Garcia classic or two, with the guitar increasing in volume (no pun intended). The moody tempo suits Patrick, too, since there are moments here where his roaring veers much closer to Garcia fused with the intensities of Ian Astbury. …And then, when they’ve hit their groove, everything descends into feedback. The ensuing noise collage is at once strangely alluring – especially if you’ve overdosed on early Hawkwind live shows in the past – but also hard going. Assuming you can go the distance and make it through spoken voices, orgasm sounds, and even more feedback, you’ll emerge at the other end to experience Reeder immersed in a massive drum solo, before everyone settles into a heavy blues jam where there’s so much distortion it makes The Stooges sound like a pop band. Naturally, in time, the original melody raises its head sheepishly, and its a good thing, too, since it closes this half hour of power with a driving riff or three that shows off Volume in a way that feels pleasingly direct.
Aside from the production values being a little off-kilter – the drums are a little too loud in places and the bass isn’t quite as deep as you’d expect – the bulk of this release settles for a great, tried and tested stoner metal sounds and a whole world of enormous retro raucousness. In doing so, its five tracks will find an instant audience with those who love John Garcia, Fu Manchu and The Atomic Bitchwax. If you should find yourself revisiting this album – a job made easier due to a 20th Anniversary reissue in 2023 – you’ll find something that still sounds fierce; a collection of tracks that hold their collective head proudly against work by Volt Ritual, Blue Heron, Dust Prophet and others who’ve picked up the stoner mantle since its original release. …And if you’ve never heard this before, you owe it to yourself to put that right, almost immediately. In terms of “forgotten” stoner bands and albums, they certainly don’t come much more exciting.