Thursday 18 November 2021

Santonegro - Roots (2021)

Country: Spain
Style: Stoner Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 3 Sep 2021
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Here's yet another interesting album from Spain and, beyond its obvious Black Sabbath influence, which is pretty much a given for anything touching stoner rock, everything else here seems to be inspired by the nineties to me, even though their previous album, Flesh & Bones, states that they play "Stoner Rock con influencias de los 80's". And it is clearly stoner rock instead of stoner metal, even though it's often heavy stuff. 7 Animal is a lean and mean three minute number that grinds with attitude and anger and almost a Swans vibe.

Mostly, the band feel like they're a big cat preparing to pounce. They have a dangerous sound and a versatile one too, one that draws its influences from grunge and punk as much as it does metal, even alt country and southern rock on Those Memories, which is hard not to call southern grunge. It's an enticing combination.

Much of that comes from the vocals of Javier Marco, which surprised me when they showed up in Them, the first track proper. I don't have enough depth in nineties American alternative rock to properly call out all his influences, but I'm hearing an agreeably weird mix of Chris Cornell, Glenn Danzig and Eddie Vedder. As you might imagine from that, he sings in a clean voice but it varies a lot depending on the song and its need for impact. He never gets harsh but there's a hoarseness to his voice that gets emphatic when he shifts to more of a shout.

As much as I like Marco's voice and, as surprising as it was for me, I like his voice over this music, I really love that music. A lot of it's in the guitar of Juan José Jover, whether he's building a riff or leaping into psychedelia for another memorable solo. A lot of it's in the very active back end, as I have to point out that Leandro Del Río's bass isn't remotely content with providing a bedrock for the band to build on; he's a lead participant from moment one, as prominent on Into the Valley as Jover's guitar, both of them enforcing their presence as the album begins. At least I assume that the bass there is Del Río's, as there's a guest bassist on that one too, Alberto Puga, who I believe is a former member of the band. Whoever's responsible for it, it sounds great.

I should add that Into the Valley is one of two instrumentals here, both of which are magnificent and annoying only in their shortness. It's a glorious intro to the album but it's over a minute and a half later. I wanted it to evolve and grow, whether it stayed instrumental or acquired a vocal track. I'd echo that on Whispers too, the other instrumental, which is all about power and dominance in a Danzig fashion. I could see this one featuring in a horror movie and again, I wanted it to last far longer than the two minutes it has.

And I wanted the album to last far longer than it does too. There are only eight tracks here, which include those two short instrumentals, with a combined running time that's a whisker under half an hour. That might work for Slayer, because half an hour of Reign in Blood leaves us bludgeoned and reeling. Half an hour of this, however, feels more like a really good start and I wanted two or three more tracks to really leave me satisfied. As I replayed again, I realised that I was thinking of the album like a good meal without the dessert. I wasn't full yet.

I think it's fair to say that the band set themselves up for that one criticism. They do a lot here in that half an hour, carving a very Santonegro sound out of a wild set of influences, not just in their choice of genres to mix in but in their tones. 7 Animal is angry and aggressive. Go Away is bouncy and commercial but still edgy. I Feel Like a Scarecrow floats effortlessly, even though it's as heavy as pretty much anything here except 7 Animal. All of that deserves praise, but I can't help but feel that there are more strings to Santonegro's bow that they just aren't showing us yet.

But hey, it's a show business maxim to leave the punters wanting more. I want more.

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