Thammuz is an ancient shepherd god of the Mesopotamians, who's referenced in both the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible. As the son of Enki and the primary consort of Ishtar, he shows up in a few ancient cults. That seems rather appropriate for this Dutch stoner rock band, as some of the songs here, starting with Guayota, feel like they could be a suitable musical backdrop for cult activity in a movie. You don't have to be in a pharmaceutically altered state of mind to visualise some of those scenes.
I haven't heard Thammuz before, but they hail from Gelderland in the central eastern part of the Netherlands on the German border and this is their second album after Into the Great Unknown. I liked it from the outset because the opening track, Electric Sheep, is an instrumental belter to kick things off and Sons of the Occult adds a commercial edge through the vocals of, well, someone. I'd give you a name but I can't find a line-up, merely photo suggestions that they're a four piece. That surprised me, because I had a feeling that they would be a power trio, given how much they enjoy instrumental tracks and sections.
As much as I liked those two tracks, though, the album grabbed me with Guayota, which is far more patient, much more ritualistic and a good deal more imaginative. It's instrumental but controlled cleverly. The rhythm section creates a dense backdrop and the guitar decorates it. For a while, the mindset it follows dominates the album. Each track starts out soft but resonant with an intro that catches the ears but builds into something more intense. Some have vocals, which tend to play in a supportive role, but I would listen to this band even without them. The nail their grooves early and milk them well.
Those grooves often play in the same ballpark. Guayota is mystical, as if we're listening in from an opium den and sharing a hallucinogenic dream with everyone else there. Had a Blast is darker but accepting, the subdued vocals fitting the feel. Dumizid's Descent is a cross between the two, once again instrumental. Peyote is softer and sparser, which adds more of a cosmic feel to proceedings, a feeling that we're floating somewhere, maybe way out there. It heavies up, of course, because a sense of urgency is never too far away on any song here. It's certainly there on Insomnia, which is a fascinating closer because the calm vocals contrast with the frenetic energy of the music.
I haven't mentioned Death Songs and People from the Sky, because they ditch the intro approach and nod back to the more traditional stoner rock of the opener. They're good but they're not at all as noteworthy as the rest of the album. What's most noteworthy is Self-Taught Man, which takes a very different approach indeed, one that I keep coming back to. I honestly couldn't tell you if I like Guayota and those other songs from my previous paragraph more than this one or vice versa. They certainly sit apart.
Self-Taught Man has a jaunty groove from the outset that's unlike anything else here, a groove I'd almost call rockabilly but set firmly within a stoner rock framework. The music takes a step back to let the vocals lead the way, for the only time on the album, kicking back in when the song warrants some emphasis. And those vocals are much more overt, which shifts them from a passive croon to a commanding lead, sounding like a cross between Nick Cave and Glenn Danzig, with a serious side of Jim Morrison. That means that they're dark but tantalising. It's a fascinating song.
I should track down the Thammuz debut because I like this band and I'm intrigued as to where they came from sonically. I'd like to know what's new this time out to see which direction they're taking going forward.