Recorded and mixed by Bloodhag’s Jeff McNulty and mastered by the legendary Tad Doyle, this EP from Seattle stoners Wyoming Young and Strong has a huge, live in the studio sound that makes similar works by renowned producer Jack Endino seem half-arsed. Presenting a wall of distortion coupled with sludge/hardcore riffs that sound like early Tad battling with ‘Ozma’ period Melvins, the band take the stoner metal sound from their earlier ‘Black Wire’ LP and ramp everything up about three fold. The results are absolutely devastating.
Opening the EP, ‘Tusalas’ at least gives listeners the grace of an instrumental warm up to get re-acclimatised to the trio’s uncompromising sound, but that doesn’t necessarily present anything simple, or easily digestible. An opening riff played on solo guitar gives an indication of how distorted this recording is; with semi-bluesy notes swamped by a heavy echo, you can almost picture the sound bouncing off the studio walls. Bringing in the bass and drums, the distortion increases, and as the band battle through a speed driven riff that combines the best in Melvins-esque noise and post-hardcore guitar tones, the intensity in their performance is immediately felt. …And then the vocals arrive – and immediately scare half of the band’s prospective audience. The featured vocal doesn’t settle into a typical doom performance. Instead, a wall of voices shout in unison as if delivering a war-cry. It’s so loud and ugly that any actual message is lost, but the relentless shouting almost becomes instrumentation in its own right. It’s genuinely frightening. Looking beyond the sheer intensity of the track’s first half – and having allowed a little time for your ears to adjust – you’ll actually find some solid stoner fare during the number’s later passages. When the wall of sound briefly falls away, bassist Jason Kopec unveils a fantastically fat tone that sounds like Geezer Butler put through five distortion pedals, and the instrumental break shares a brilliant blend of blues-doom that really showcases a fine, yet still raw tone from guitarist Josh Engelhardt. In some ways, it sounds like the best of Polish doomers Weird Tales jamming with Sleep. It’s safe to say this is anything but safe.
If you can make it past that, you’ll make it through anything these lads throw in your direction, no matter how aggressive. And to be fair, the remainder of this release has its angry moments, but there’s also more of a (welcome) concession to massive stoner/desert rock melodies in a couple of places. The best of the more melodic moments cuts through the introduction of ‘Grey Blade’ when Engelhardt adopts a cleaner tone to craft a great sound, before the band launches into a stomping riff where a heavy Melvins-esque chug underscores another round of shouting. Keeping things on the good side of interesting, the shouting is offset by some fine post-metal riffing between the verses, and during the instrumental interludes, Wyoming’s love of classic stoner and sludge comes through in massive waves when the guitar and bass lock into more of a groove-led riff. Better still, the instrumental break allows drummer Josh Williams room to lay down some heavy tom work, before another fuzzy blues drenched solo reminds everyone that there are melodies here, desperate to escape. The respite doesn’t last long, however. For a huge finish, the trio of voices chant “Fall on your knees and fall on your sword” and their devastating mantra encompasses almost everything, creating a threatening noise that brings close ties with the opening track.
Cranking the intensity, but ultimately opting for something more familiar, the hugely crunchy ‘Burned Path’ takes the honour of being this EP’s highlight, purely for focusing on a massive riff that sounds like a marriage of early Orange 9mm and the heaviest, most obtuse bits of Melvins’ ‘Stag’. This is the most natural scenario for the band’s still shouty approach, and segues really effortlessly into some slower post-hardcore anger once the band decide to launch into an even heavier riff. It sounds like a lot of stuff you will have heard from the 90s, albeit played at three times the volume, and with a really enjoyable coda where Josh W. lays a whole world of tribal drum grooves beneath a rolling bass, it becomes the ultimate sludge/hardcore crossover. Closing with ‘Space Wizard’ – a tune that takes the band’s more obvious Melvins love and injects it with a speed closer to garage punk, there are vague parallels with some of Tad’s more energised pieces, but the vocal style and abrasive drumming is still very recognisable as the work of Wyoming Young and Strong. In an interesting musical shift, the grunge infused hardcore riffing gives way for a much quirkier middle eight. Here, the drums take the lead, almost dropping into a jazz inspired post-hardcore groove reminiscent of a much heavier Fugazi, whilst the chugging guitar demonstrates an easy knack for a more melodic riff, relatively speaking. It’s here, assuming it wasn’t clear elsewhere, that it becomes obvious how well this trio can play – and, perhaps more importantly, how tight they are as a unit.
More concerned with threatening riffs, huge crushing sounds and relentless shouting than actual songs, this band are never easy listening, and never about compromise. They should be approached with caution. However, their ability to take noise rock, sludge and post-hardcore into exciting and very dramatic places is without question. It won’t be for everyone – and certainly isn’t every day listening, even from a sludge metal perspective – but this small package could still offer adventurous listeners plenty to enjoy.