Credited as “a three headed monster”, Finnish rockers Rückwater might seem like just another stoner band on the surface, but ‘Bonehead’ – their third release – shows them to be more than that. In fact, their willingness to take stoner rock roots and shake them up explains why they’ve shared stages with the expected (Karma To Burn, Truckfighters) and the less obvious (Anthrax‘s Joey Belladonna). ‘Bonehead’ not only rocks hard but also teases with chorus hooks, elements of dark psychedelia and even takes a foray into the kind of full throttle, four chord gutsiness that would make Zeke raise a collective eyebrow. In short, it’s more than worth an ear.
1967’s supposed summer of love and its psychedelic, swirling colourful world was never going to last forever. 1968, by contrast, was darker and less flamboyant, a time of unrest. Students rioted in Paris, while the psychedelic pop of yesteryear was beginning to wane in favour of harder stuff. Often abreast of the mood of the pop-culture sphere, we only have to look at The Beatles output from this time to get a brief glimpse of the general changes in attitude. In a short time, they’d gone from lush, complex pop to a starker and altogether colder musical mood, a good chunk of the fourth side of their sprawling double set from 1968 devoted to near-impenetrable tape loops and cut-ups. Hendrix, too, had experimented with denser sounds on ‘Electric Ladyland’ than either of his previous two albums, while The Doors’ general circus of dystopia was at its peak. 1968 was arguably the year when pop begat hard rock. Fitting, then, with a whole arsenal of retro sounds at their disposal, that this trio from Cheshire should choose “1968” as their band name. Their sounds look backwards a time when the blues came with a mass of distortion and the world-changing Black Sabbath were lurking just over the horizon.
Taking their cue from the analogue sounding Sabbathed out sounds of Kyuss and Melvins (specifically ‘Stoner Witch’) dropped in the early 90s, Limb take similarly heavy vibes and slow, expertly structured and lumbering riffs to a high plateau. From the brief distortion and grinding guitar line that kicks off ‘Twelve Ghosts’, they make no attempt to hide any of their influences. The fuzz and sheer drive of their opening statement ensures those unfamiliar with Limb will instantly recognise this album as being doom/sludge metal of the highest order – that Limb are set to pummel their listeners with an almost narrow view towards a sonic range; often shifting from heavy to heavier still. At the point the vocals arrive – self-aware that they are not as important as the riff – you might expect things to fall away, but still the band maintain their intensity. Frontman Rob Hoey growls and shouts like a hybrid of Mastondon’s Troy Sanders and the mouthpiece from Brazilian stoners Son of a Witch, his delivery taking on a similarly untrained and unrestrained rasp; with only a few lines he ensures he makes them count – making himself sound hoarse in the process. Meanwhile, the rest of the band shift between slow, doom laden moods and occasional Fu Manchu-esque groove; while the change in speed is welcome, it doesn’t necessarily mean things are about to get lighter… The blend between the severely downtuned guitars and a rattling riff with clanging ride cymbal evokes a classic stoner/doom sound, akin to the grooves that filled the majority of Down’s classic ‘Nola’, a sound which suits Limb frighteningly well…and they know it. So much so, in fact, that it’s a model from which this debut full-length release rarely deviates: whether that is a good or bad thing, as always, will be solely down to personal taste.
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.