Style: Stoner Rock
Release Date: 13 Nov 2020
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Petrichor is one of my favourite words and one that I don't get to use very often here in Phoenix, AZ, because it so rarely rains here. Well, it did yesterday, breaking a 110 day stretch without measurable rainfall, and that means that I can absolutely use it today. Looking outside this morning, most of the rain had dried up, leaving just the petrichor emanating from what little grass we have in our yard. If I'd waited for the next rain to review Qilin, this album wouldn't be remotely new any more.
Instrumental stoner rock has become one of my favourite genres, though I'm not well grounded in it yet. It didn't really exist back in the eighties, at least under that name, and I wasn't paying attention in the early nineties when stoner rock was conjured up by bands like Monster Magnet, Fu Manchu and Kyuss pioneered it. The instrumental take on the genre came later, mostly in Europe but also here in the US with bands like Karma to Burn. I didn't notice until I started to deep dive into rock and metal again and found that it grown into a huge scene.
I've never heard Qilin before, but then this is their debut album. They're from Paris, the one in France not the one in Texas, and, outside a demo and a single, both released in 2017, this is the first material they've shared with the word. It doesn't really transport me anywhere, the way some of the bands with a heavier psychedelic flavour often do, but it sounds damn good. The riffs are heavy and the bass isn't so buried in fuzz that I can't tell what it's doing. There are repetitive sections that push for trancelike states, but there are also a lot of dynamics to keep this varied.
The songs have time to breathe too because, while this album runs for over three quarters of an hour, there are only six tracks on offer. It kicks off with the eight and a half minute Through the Fire, which is interesting because of how it starts and ends heavy but gets a lot calmer in the midsection, as if the fire itself is a peaceful cleanser of pain. The next three songs vary from four to seven minutes, before giving way to the monsters that close out; Myrmidon's Big Jam and Head of Medusa both run beyond ten minutes. It's worth noting that the three shorter songs appeared on the band's 2017 demo, while the three longer songs didn't. Presumably, the band are growing into their sound.
As I mentioned, this album doesn't transport me to anywhere specific and these songs don't play in a visual way for me, but they never bored me either. The shortest song, Labyrinth, crams a lot into only four minutes, with a number of slower sections and a major jam in the middle of the song, that plays a lot like early Sabbath to me except for the lead guitar, which wails very differently to Tony Iommi. I should add that I wasn't aching for Ozzy to start singing; this works well instrumentally. And the long songs played well for me too, sometimes even better. Head of Medusa is delightfully loose until, five minutes in, it ramps up and tightens up for a while.
I don't know where Cold Pine Highway is, if it's even a real place, but the presumably sampled spoken word intro suggests that maybe it's home to a lunatic asylum. Maybe the different themes buried in this piece represent different inmates or different states of mind. Whether they do or don't, the song sounds great to me. I really like how the lead guitar can enter the fray and have us pay attention, but we never stop following the rhythm section too, whatever the lead's doing. That happens often here.
Other than that intro, there are no voices on this album and it doesn't need them. Whether the songs are long or short, they find their groove and ride it on out. I particularly like the ones that go for two grooves, one when it's really moving and a mellower one in between. I think my favourite must be Sun Strokes the Wall, because it has both those grooves, but also a glorious slowdown a couple of minutes in that almost has us thinking that our playback equipment is dying and then a delightfully chill part right after that. There's a lot going on in this song to explore but it's also immediate.
And that kind of describes the album as a whole. I liked it the moment it started but I've found depths with each time through. And it needed to be good. I'm warming up to the new Diamond Head...
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