SLO BURN – Amusing The Amazing EP

With guitars tuned to a low C and with fuzz pedals galore, Kyuss became kings of the stoner metal movement in the early 90s.  The band went their separate ways at the end of 1995, with guitarist Josh Homme forming Queens of the Stone Age, who would go on to critical acclaim with their mix of retro hard rock, post grunge and psychedelic  metal.  In 1996, vocalist John Garcia formed Slo Burn – a fuzzy low end rock quartet, who took the core sound Kyuss had made their trademark on their later albums.

‘Amusing The Amazing’, co-produced with Masters of Reality man Chris Goss, was released on Malicious Vinyl records in 1997. While Slo Burn’s sound doesn’t ever reach quite the extremes reached by Garcia’s former band, the core sound isn’t so different and their intentions are clear right from the beginning of the opening track.  Distorted guitars pave the way for ‘The Prizefighter’, which then get overlaid with a sledgehammer riff.  Garcia adopts the same vocal tone as before, just about holding its own against the grinding, sludgy bass and guitar work.  Although only a short track, weighing in at just over two and a quarter minutes, it does everything that’s required to prove that (perhaps more than Queens of the Stone Age would ever be) this band were more than worthy successors to the Kyuss throne.

‘Muezli’ and ‘July’ both follow similar traits and make for solid listening, even though there are moments during the latter where Garcia’s voice almost gets lost under the swamp of guitars and bass.  During ‘Muezli’ in particular, it would take a pretty hardcore Kyuss fan to spot that Garcia had a different band in tow.  Although not containing one of the most imaginative riffs, ‘July’ makes up for any shortcomings by including an added focus on the drums.  In places, Brady Houghton adopts a solid, tribal feel as opposed to his usual unsubtle, hard rock heavy-on-the cymbals approach (which had been clearly influenced by Brant Bjork’s style on the Kyuss debut).

‘Pilot The Dune’ is the EP’s absolute high point.  It’s not just a standout in the Slo Burn catalogue, but also a standout moment in the history of stoner rock, its mid paced beginnings typify what’s great about the sub genre, capturing a tight band and Garcia in good form.  Even better is the slow, grinding end section which holds the real power.  Over a brooding Kyuss style riff, Garcia tells the world: ‘when it rains I feel love, when it pours I feel hate’, in what could be one of his best ever performances.   In a complete change of atmosphere, this is broken up by a few bars of clean toned guitars which sound like they’re played through a Leslie Cabinet.

Breaking up mid tour in September of the same year, Slo Burn never recorded their planned full length LP, leaving us with only these four songs issued officially.  ‘Amusing The Amazing’ acts as a taster for something much bigger and better, but sadly it wasn’t to be.  For any self-respecting Kyuss fan, this EP is a must have.

January 2010/February 2011


Having already released a self-titled EP at the end of 2010, Philadelphia’s Ruby The Hatchet began to create a small buzz via a few cult music blogs.  For those who sang the band’s praises previously, their first full length release will be welcomed with open arms.  For the many yet to be enthralled by this band’s music – which previously included Real Gone, having missed that EP entirely first time around – it’s time to sit up and take note, for ‘Ouroboros’ is awesome.  On this release, sounding like a cross between Fu Manchu and The Dead Weather, Ruby The Hatchet split their talents between heavy stoner rock numbers and spooky late 60s influenced psych, proving equally adept at both.

An instant hit, ‘Black Tongue’ rolls along with tuneful menace. The downtuned riffs takes a huge cue from Fu Manchu and Kyuss, delivering some of the finest bottom end grooves you’re likely to hear. The music may be overly familiar, but what sets this apart from many other bands ploughing a similar doom and groove-oriented furrow is Jillian Taylor’s vocal. Don’t be thinking that Taylor’s delivery is light and airy though; her voice – although often subjected to various reverb effects – comes with enough belt to hold up against the riffs, and a level of passion which really captivates the listener. ‘Wicked Ones’ features another great vocal – ending with a wail that makes Taylor sound like the dark cousin of Stevie Nicks – but of great importance is the number’s huge riff: not quite metal, far beyond its blues roots, it’s the kind of meaty monolith that powers lots of good quality stoner/retro rock.  If that’s your bag, you’ll certainly get a thrill listening to this.

More upbeat, ‘Strange Hold’ is this album’s most danceable number.  The drums may dictate more of a swagger and bounce, but the result has just as much power as the more ominous ‘Black Tongue’.   Each member of the band brings equal brilliance to this short piece: the rhythm section is tight, the guitars have the kind of distorted dominance that befits such a Sabbath-inspired outing and the lead vocal once again has an extra something… The contrast between the tone of Jillian’s vocal and the fuzziness of the riffs works as brilliant musical yin yang.  Beyond a solid drum line, ‘Good God Damn’ is a tad atonal, but that was surely the band’s intention.  On this Dead Weather-eque workout, dressed in a little reverb, the lead voice sounds very cool.  Beyond that, the number doesn’t break far beyond some oddly demanding drones until the inevitable climax, topped by a guitar solo that’s more about reverb than notes and flashiness.  Generally, the music serves to draw attention farther to the vocal and drum parts – both of which are strong enough to carry this particular piece.

There are equally enjoyable moments where the band deviate from Fu Manchu inspired grooves and kick into more psych rock/rhythm ‘n’ blues fare.  The second half of ‘Can’t Get Him Away’ is such an offering.  Adding farther enjoyment to its distinctive fuzzed out rock, it has a dual vocal where Taylor is joined by gritty tones from drummer Owen Stewart – the result of which sounds kind of like Blue Cheer tackling Ten Years After, before being heavied up for extra impact. Going for atmospheres over intensity, ‘Holy Father’ is the softest and slowest number on the album, but is perhaps guitarist John Scarperia’s finest moment, swapping distortion for an echoing lead delivering no shortage of bluesy licks. A limited lyric means that any vocal is almost just extra instrumentation, adding a little something extra to the very late 60s/early 70s vibe.  Even better, the jangly ‘Nowhere’ sounds at first like it’s going to break into a tune by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, before blossoming into a psych rocker that could be described as an atmospheric groover.  Beneath the ringing guitar tones, bassist Mike Parise finds plenty of space to include busy riffs.  It’s great to hear him branching out farther from the usual unwavering approach Ruby’s music usually demands.

Ruby The Hatchet may not be especially big on choruses (some songs don’t have any, others don’t always fulfil potential, settling for a few one-liners), but everything else seriously makes up for that.  When it comes to style, these tunes have plenty.  Listen…and you won’t be sorry you did.  Don’t just take Real Gone’s word for it – after all, no amount of flowery prose makes up for hearing something first hand and ‘Ouroboros’ is worth any amount of time you’d care to invest in it.  It’s 2012’s best heavy psych/stoner record, bar none.

November 2012

GNIYRG GNAARG – The Acolytes Feel Sleepy EP

Aside from having an unpronounceable name that’s a nightmare for search engines, Gniyrrg Gnaarg are a Finnish doom metal/stoner rock trio.  Their second EP ‘The Acolytes Feel Sleepy’ presents two long and ambling epics linked by a shorter instrumental piece.  Musically, there are a few interesting moments, but it’s only fair to warn that in terms of performance these guys are pretty ragged, so getting all the way through requires some patience on behalf of the listener.

‘Hololuthrian’ is slow to start, as a solid bassline collides with a fuzzy guitar riff.  That riff shows promise with its tone reminiscent of other stoner works, but the playing is a tiny bit clumsy.  By the time the tune cranks itself up at about the two minute mark, the riffs swells to a full on monolithic metallic slab and in doing so become much more enjoyable.  Predictably, it then subsides in order to accommodate the lead vocal.  This is somewhat of a drawback: although Tommy’s basslines have a decent weighty quality, his vocal style is thin and rather waily.  His accented cries aren’t particularly suited to a metal band and are more than a bit difficult to endure in any more than short bursts.  Luckily, on the chorus section, parts of the vocals are disguised with distortion and all round extra fuzziness…   Add a rudimentary drummer whose playing doesn’t have a particularly huge presence and for nearly nine minutes you’re faced with a piece of music which tries hard – very hard, in fact – but doesn’t always live up to its potential.

‘Nay, A Prophet’ – the EP’s other long piece – is as bewildering as it is entertaining.  The bass lays down an ominous riff at first, with a couple of great high notes, while Leo noodles slowly on his guitar in a jazzy tone.  The drums, meanwhile, plod mechanically – and without any kind of exteme metal riff to disguise them (at least to begin with), the beats almost feel too slow, almost like a recording slightly slowed down.  Although it’s deceptively hard to maintain a slow and pounding beat, Ines, on occasion, sounds like a man who’s not been playing for a long time.  Instrumentally, there is something here potentially more enjoyable than ‘Hololuthrian’ – largely down to a superb fuzz bass – but on the flipside, huge parts of this number are crushed by a giant wailing vocal.  By the closing section, the band crank up into a high gear; with everything played much faster, it’s hard to tell whether Tom’s vocal is off-key on purpose in a gently avant-garde sense, or just plainly off-key…only Gniyrg Gnaarg know that for sure.

The short instrumental ‘A Wizard?’ is this EPs best tune.  It’s not necessarily to do with the lack of vocal especially, but everything to do with a much more focused approach. The riffs take a Black Sabbath blueprint and turns it up to eleven, cranking out long-ish notes in a loop for just over two minutes.  Those riffs have a fuller quality all round, while the brief playing time means there is no room here for needless noodling or padding.  It goes straight for your skull in terms of overall aggression, something helped further by Tommy’s loud rattling bass sound.  This proves that Gniyrg Gnaarg aren’t without talent – just based on most of ‘The Acolytes Feel Sleepy’, any talent they have is still very raw.

There are glimpses of goodness found within this EP and sonically, it’s a vast improvement over Gniyrg Gnaarg’s previous recording (2010’s ‘Mother Sun’).  Overall, though, at this early stage of their musical career, these guys just don’t have the tightness that’s necessary to make their sounds work over a long period.

September 2012

THEM CROOKED VULTURES – Them Crooked Vultures

The idea of Josh Homme forming a supergroup with John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl, on paper at least, is a very exciting concept.  Imagine the energy of Grohl’s many previous works colliding with a wedge of Zeppelin fuelled goodness!  Surely that means that Them Crooked Vultures should have some big appeal?

And it does. …But only really to fans of Joshua Homme and particularly his band Queens of The Stone Age. Aside from an occasional obvious backing vocal from Dave Grohl and an occasional musical flourish (but seldom more) from Jones, a lot of Them Crooked Vultures’ material feels indistinguishable from Homme’s main band.

If viewed as the work of a supergroup, most of the album is unremarkable. Homme is clearly de facto band leader and most of the music takes his usual punchy but sludgy approach. Fine if you like Queens of the Stone Age, but of little interest to other people. ‘No One Loves Me & Neither Do I’ has a fantastic riff, but fails to back it up with a memorable hook. Lead single ‘New Fang’ has a decent drum groove, with stops on the what sounds like it ought to be a pre-chorus, but again there’s nothing too memorable about it. ‘Elephants’ is rather cumbersome and drags on far too long at nearly seven minutes (a common criticism of at least half of Homme’s work), despite a decent intro riff.

‘Scumbag Blues’, a Cream style power trio workout, is one of the only times that the potential behind Them Crooked Vultures can be seen. It’s also the first time Jones’s keyboard work makes an obvious appearance. Here, he occasionally breaks into some very welcome ‘Trampled Underfoot’ styled clavinet work. Although ‘Bandoliers’ features an old-style mellotron, it’s all but buried below the drums. Such a pity that Jones’s distinctive keyboard work (a la ‘No Quarter’, ‘Trampled Underfoot’ and ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’) doesn’t have much place in Them Crooked Vultures. It could be argued that Jones’s keyboard is the key to ‘Interlude With Ludes’, but he’s not playing much of anything resembling a tune and the whole thing is a mess.

Since Jones would be a hero to both Homme and Grohl, it seems odd that his contributions to Them Crooked Vultures would be so underwhelming. He’s credited as playing bass, keyboards, keytar, piano, slide guitar and mandolin, but most of these get lost under Josh Homme’s trademark bluster. Aside from occasional keyboards, most of his clearly audible work is restricted to the bass. While his bass playing is solid, there are a number of Homme’s chums who could have filled the bass player’s spot as easily.

Some of the material here sounds solid, but little of it makes any lasting impact. Some good riffs for sure, but a repetitive sound and lack of hooks makes ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ a wasted opportunity, considering the musicians involved. Some of this material would’ve made a decent Queens of The Stone Age album, but if viewed as more than that, it’s one of the biggest musical disappointments of 2009.

January 2010