Tuesday 7 January 2020

Desert Colossus - Eyes and Tongues (2020)

Country: Netherlands
Style: Stoner Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 3 Jan 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

Many of the albums I enjoyed the most in 2019 were stoner rock albums, not a statement I ever thought I'd write. Sure, I've always liked psychedelia, in all its many forms, but I missed out on the ascendancy of stoner rock in the nineties and am now finding myself enjoying it a generation later. I have a lot of groundwork to still do, but I've added Desert Colossus to the growing list of bands to follow.

What surprised me here wasn't that I enjoyed most of it but that it's varied beyond my expectations, perhaps because the influences go beyond the usual, even beyond what the band list on their Facebook page. Amongst the expected stoner rock bands like Kyuss, Fu Manchu and Sleep, I'm easily hearing others they list like Hawkwind, the Sword and Soundgarden, albeit not necessarily throughout the album. While Black Sabbath are the most obvious name that is nowhere to be found on that list, perhaps because they're a gimme, I heard some glam rock here on a couple of tracks too.

That's most obvious on Wicked Man, which feels like Sabbath with a glam rock swagger, but it's there in the pausing two note riff on the opener, Tear Me Down, as it reminds me of Sweet or the Ram Jam Band. As Desert Colossus are Dutch, it may be more of a Golden Earring nod. Anyway, it moves on into the more playful end of stoner rock, very lively and very engaging.

While that's a good song to kick things off, it frankly pales in comparison to the next song, which is fantastic. It's called The One - Eyes and Tongues and so I presume it's the title track. It's also thirteen minutes long and I wasn't bored once, even with a slow repetitive intro. It starts out heavy, a hypnotic approach countered by pausing for the vocals to be delivered during gaps in a frenetic fashion. Partway through, it goes all delicate in a way I might expect for an early Sabbath song, then ramps up instrumentally to the finalé. It's the best song on the album and it's a gem.

From a thirteen minute song to a three minute one. Predicament slips on into play with a cool wail and gets right down to business. It also builds with a hypnotic vibe, but this time it's more akin to Hawkwind with an alternative vocal style. As the songs run on, they continue to change and that's mostly a good thing. Collect Call to Reality is more laid back with a little grunge to flavour it. Null aims for a live punk vibe within a stoner rock framework and it's as in your face as anything here gets.

Wicked Man is my other favourite here, with Predicament hovering behind its shoulder to make itself known too. Beyond being Sabbath with glam swagger, I liked the contrasts in speed. After an intro that feels acutely familiar, it really blisters for a while, like Sabbath on steroids, until it slows down to a pace that, by comparison, feels achingly slow but really isn't, before eventually going back to blister again. I appreciate good use of dynamics and apparently so do Desert Colossus.

What I didn't appreciate was the final song, The Final Signs of the End, as it features a long sample under the music that mostly isn't intelligible so ends up as more of a distraction than a texture. It seems to be some sort of religious rant but it ends up sounding more like a baseball game playing too loud on the radio next door that we're trying to drown out with loud fuzzy guitars. I like the guitars but the clash makes the song feel long. When the eight minute song feels long but the thirteen minute song doesn't, there's a problem.

I hadn't heard Desert Colossus before but this is their third album, after a self titled one in 2016 and Omnibeul in 2017. Both are available at Bandcamp so it shouldn't be hard to check them out. The change between tracks makes me wonder what the band used to sound like and how they're evolving.

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