I've seen Wo Fat's name bandied about often as I've dived into stoner rock and associated genres, as they're one of the more highly regarded American bands at the heavier end of the desert rock to sludge metal spectrum. They don't go all the way to sludge, mixing their stoner rock with doom metal, though I have a feeling that this album is a little less heavier than usual. I don't know that for sure, because I haven't had a chance to dive into their back catalogue yet, which encompasses another six albums going back to 2006; their most recent until now was 2016's Midnight Cometh.
I should point out here that they're a four piece now, Kent Stump still in place on vocals and guitar with Michael Walter on drums, but Patrick Smith replaced Zack Busby on bass this year and Matt Watkins, an early member of the band, has returned to add a second guitar to their sonic assault. That makes for a deep sound.
This one is a behemoth of an album, appropriately given the cover art, clocking in at over seventy-five minutes. However, the songs are long, as you can imagine when I point out that there are just seven of them on offer. The bookends are the epics, Orphans of the Singe kicking things off a blink shy of fourteen minutes and The Oracle wrapping them up at sixteen and a half. The shortest song here is The Unraveling, which is only a little under eight minutes, so shortest doesn't mean short. I found that I generally liked the longer songs but not for the reason I expected.
They're moods rather than journeys, which makes this a little different from the usual stoner rock I review. These songs don't transport me anywhere to experience the wonders of the universe. I'm not seeing them in the way I often do, because they're not triggering other senses. What they are doing is pulling me into a particular musical vibe and keeping me there for the duration. Perhaps that's the point of stoner rock, given that the genre is named for and so closely allied to chemical stimulation, but I've never explored it that way because music is my drug and I take it neat.
And I really enjoyed this as music, especially during the instrumental sections where the band just jam for extended periods. I got lost in them, as if I'd put headphones on, closed my eyes and set off for parts unknown, only opening them an hour and change later and not having a clue where I was. In other words, these songs are soundtracks to journeys or perhaps companions on those journeys, but not the journeys themselves. Not once did I forget that I was listening to music, but not once did that music forget I was listening either. It's a symbiotic thing.
I would bring Hawkwind in as a comparison here, because that's exactly what they do for me too, in much the same style. This isn't live, but it reminded me in many respects of Space Ritual. The bass isn't as driving and the cosmic sounds aren't generally here, but the vocals are as agreeably rough and the riffs are just as hypnotically effective and even more neverending. And, most importantly, those jams are much longer without ever losing any of their magnetic edges, especially in the long songs. I really dig the eight minute The Snows of Banquo IV every time I listen through this album, but the longer songs extend that feeling progressively further, to their benefit. The shorter ones are more up tempo and vibrant but less exploratory.
So, much later than expected, I've encountered Wo Fat and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I'd suggest that they're not quite what I thought they would be but perhaps in a positive way. They're rooted in stoner rock but they're definitely heavier than the norm. However, their inevitable Black Sabbath starting point, most obviously on The Unraveling, its edges rounded off and softened with Hawkwind reverb, except ironically on the same track when it gets sassy into a stoner take on Killing in the Name. It's still heavy, but with the psychedelic vibe always more important than the heaviness. I would call it velvety doom metal over heavier stoner rock, even though it's both and I love that feel. This is a peach of an album that's somehow seventy-six minutes short.