Sometimes it seems that the boundary between doom metal and stoner metal is so narrow that it can be difficult to put a band on one side or the other. Black Juju, who hail from Larissa, the capital of the region of Greece known as Thessaly, veer back and forth over that boundary so much that I guess that I have to call them both. Jaguar Paw opens up the album in classic Candlemass style but Hiawatha has a laid back vibe that feels more stoner metal and, when vocals kick in properly on V.F.T., they're on the stoner metal side too, even if they sometimes veer back towards classic Ozzy.
And yes, this is a vocal album. While Jaguar Paw is an entirely instrumental opener and the vocals on Hiawatha are restricted to the song's title repeated through Native American chanting, even though this is a five minute song, more traditional vocals do kick in eventually and I believe that singer Panos Dimitriou doesn't play an instrument as well. He sings in English, with a deliberately unpolished rasp that reminded me of Zodiac Mindwarp, sans all his Cult-like choruses. It gives this a rough edge but is still clearly understandable and without much of an accent either.
V.F.T. reminds me of Zodiac Mindwarp in other ways too, namely that the music is down and dirty and has tinges of punk and industrial, without ever moving into either genre. Starting a song by gargling in front of the microphone, as someone does on Soulstealer, is absolutely the sort of thing he'd have done too, as is the closing boast of a line proclaiming that, "I'm the coolest one in east and west, oh yeah." Thinking of this album as a doom metal take on Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction felt a little weird but I just can't unhear it.
Now, I doubt that these boys from Thessaly have even heard of the High Priest of Love, but they have been around for quite a while. If I'm understanding correctly, they were formed in 2000 as In Vain and became Black Juju in 2011. Also, three of the band were also in heavy metal band Denial Price, which was formed way back in 1986 and was briefly known as Shadow Axis. However, that longevity has little translation into relesaes. Denial Price only managed an EP and a few demos, In Vain never passed the demo stage and this is only the second Black Juju album, after Letters from My Brother Cain in 2012, even if there was an EP in between them. Clearly these folk aren't prolific.
Fortunately, they sound good. This may not be kept us waiting for nine years good, but I like it. It has plenty of lively attitude for a genre that's traditionally introspective and depressed, and it's clearly not afraid to play with tempos. Sometimes they get really slow, elongating their notes with powerful effect, but they just can't resist perking back up again afterwards. In this, they reminded me more of American doom bands like Pentagram and Trouble than anything European. Vagios Alexopoulos has a surprising sprightly touch and it rubs off on everyone else.
It's fair to say that my expectations were totally off here. Most obviously, I expected something much slower and doomier, and didn't get it. It's not even particularly introspective, though there's some of that on (A Song for) Sorrow, which is calmer, more intricate and much more melancholy than anything else here. However, I also expected something with more of a psychedelic edge, given the band's logo, cover art and album title. Again they surprised me. There's only a little of that to be found here, most obviously in the wailing guitar early in Acid King. This is also the most Ozzy that Dimitriou gets, but it has to be said that I caught some Dio in there too. He's clearly not a one era Sabbath fan.
However much this wasn't what I was expecting, I enjoyed it a great deal. I found the American doom influences fascinating, though Hiawatha may be seen as a little problematic there nowadays. This is a homage in many ways to the more upbeat American doom style and it's a good one. I haven't listened to Pentagram in forever and this prompted me to take a nostalgic side trip. Oddly, the European nods are found in the bookends, opener Jaguar Paw and closer Gloomy Sunday reminding much more of the Swedish style and early Candlemass.
Greece rarely disappoints me nowadays and Purple Flower, Garden Black is another winner. Check out Black Hearted River to see if this is up your alley or not. It's definitely up mine and that's my standout track, I think, with Gloomy Sunday and Soulstealer up there too.