Greetings unto thee, heaviest of Heavy Bloggers! Welcome to the end of Q1 for Riff Lords, Inc. I am Pete, here as always with your monthly presentation of doom economics. 2019 has slowly been ramping up the releases, but now we’re in the midst of what could possibly be on some end of the year callbacks. I’m personally having a hard time this month with at least 3 albums I want to say, “THIS IS THE BEST OF THE YEAR, NO DISCUSSIONS OR I’LL FIGHT YOU TO THE GROUND.” However, I’ll keep my mind as open as possible in presenting the picks for the month. But I will still fight you.
It seems that 4/20 has come early this year as March has blessed us with many stoner-infused riff records. There are licks galore this month with a number of stoner and witchy kinds of jams that’ll make you whip out your blacklight posters and just zone out to this special brand of metal. Spring has sprung, so you can even take your jams outdoors and enjoy the sunshine for once! To the riffs!
Tar Pit – Tomb of Doom
Let’s start off with the absolutely filthy drone sludge doom of Portland’s Tar Pit on Tomb of Doom. The five piece combines a lot of sounds of the doom side of things. There’s some sludge-infused faster riffs that just as easily break into heavy blues-style guitar solos and all matter of the slow and low in between. Their droning sections are very reminiscent of heavy psychedelia, and it’s just a little bit of everything served together in equal doses.
The dark overtones of the record help sell every other part. Part of it is the reverb on vocalist Matthew Ortega’s vocals. It sounds like it’s coming from the pits of the earth (see what I did there) as though some undiscovered creature is shouting it from the very depths. The other part is how that mixes with the extremely heavy fuzz tones from the guitars and bass. All of this distortion and modulation makes it sound like uncanny valley doom. Which should make it even creepier.
“Bruja” encapsulates everything Tar Pit is about. The steady heavily fuzzed out riffs set a regular pace for the track. It feels very much like an early Black Sabbath riff in the throwback sound it has. No crazy guitar acrobatics here. All must serve the sludgy riff! The whole song is just their slight modern spin on old school riffing which makes the record just that special. If you missed this record this month, be sure to correct that error.
Green Lung – Woodland Rites
Eden’s review nailed it on the head. This record is a fun tour of stoner metal infused with horror elements that will please any fan of the psychedelic and horror movies. It’s got those big and fuzzy riffs you need combined with an incredible atmosphere that draws you in to the ritual to summon the devil. On top of that, you should be astounded by the fact that this is the band’s first full length record after only being together for two years.
This band’s ability to write a fun riff is shocking. Every note has that extra oomph required to be a big and bold stoner metal group. The title track kicks everything off the way you need. There really is something to be said about a good introductory track. I think you kind of need one in order to draw people in or you’re doomed to fail from the outset. While “Woodland Rites” is the second track, it’s the first true song on the album and has that required bassy fuzz riff. Combine that with the sheer size of every other aspect of the song, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a trip into the woods for the sacred rites.
“Let the Devil In,” the first single from the record, is what ties this whole thing together. The track is a shockingly mature work of songwriting. The opening riff is just spooky enough to set the whole thing up about tempting a woman into the devil’s service. It’s wonderfully fun stuff from a band with a surprisingly mature sound for only their first full length release. Not only should this be a pick of the month, it should really be on our minds as a record of the year.
Asthma Castle – Mount Crushmore
Not everything this month can be a record of hypnotic stoner jams. Sometimes you have to get pretty aggressive. So let’s thank Asthma Castle for bringing the heat to this month’s Doomsday with Mount Crushmore, a six-track album of pummeling sludge to make sure you know that doom can get brutal, too. The semi-super group including members of Pig Destroyer and Integrity squeezes out some high energy sludge that’s both brutal and fun at once. It’s definitely a must listen for the year for the aficionados among us.
The whole tone behind this record is what makes it so unique. It straddles the line between straight up rock and metal in very subtle ways. There’s not enough darkness to their sound to be a straight up metal band, but there’s also way too much aggression to be considered your average rock group. It puts Asthma Castle in a very unique position of being acceptable to a lot of crowds without turning each crowd on each other. It’s really heavy and really fun at the same time, and you really don’t get a ton of that these days.
The riff from the title track is a summary of this record. It’s a pretty pummeling riff of chugging power chords with just a bit of movement and groove to it. The amount of bass present in each track helps hold the sound together, but it works especially well on “Mount Crushmore”. It gives it the heft it needs to seem super heavy and the groove it needs to not seem quite so inaccessible to non-metal fans. This is a metal band for all seasons and truly shouldn’t be missed.
High Reeper – Higher Reeper
There continues to be awesome throwback records coming out in a steady stream this year, and Philadelphia’s High Reeper is another band in a long line of solid gold hits. This record is just a fun take on another throwback sound. It’s very 70s in some ways, emphasizing the lighter side of 70s heavy metal with a lot of accessible psychedelia thrown in. Imagine Blue Öyster Cult with more modern production qualities, and you’ve got yourself High Reeper.
Much like some other bands these days, it has a very 70s stoner sound. It dabbles in occult themes with some heavy riffs, but it’s light enough on that stuff that it isn’t really turning anyone away. It’s a very fun and accessible sound that even non-doom metal fans could really enjoy. It dabbles in a lot of different sounds on the doomy side of things. “Eternal Leviathan” is the perfect traditional doom song. “Apocalypse Hymn” reminds me of Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” with its spacey desert rock feel. Album closer “Barbarian” is closer to a more modern doom sound. All over the spectrum, High Reeper does it really well and puts their own unique spin on these sounds.
But with all that 70s style throwback, you knew there had to be a good song about marijuana on the record. “Foggy Drag” is exactly what you’d want out of a big stoner jam. It’s got a huge guitar riff at a fairly slow speed that doesn’t skimp on the bass. I personally love these kinds of songs that are so on the nose about talking weed. It makes it seem like smoking weed is the most important thing someone can do. They’re not endorsing it, of course. Not directly anyway. It’s very tongue in cheek about it. People would think this is an endorsement since an entire song with such a monumental riff makes it seem like it’s the most important thing in the world. But that’s all over this record. If you’re looking for a good throwback sound, Higher Reeper is the way to go.
Magic Circle – Departed Souls
This month was great for more traditional sounds, and Magic Circle takes the cake from all of them. It’s undeniable that this sort of sound is taking place at the same time as a rise in more traditional sounds, but it also has a distinctly different flavor than the others. While many of Magic Circle’s compatriots are making variations on a late 70s or early 80s sound with flecks of power metal, this band goes a little deeper to a more original sound more akin to 1971 than 1979.
While this is definitely the sound of the original heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, it also sounds uniquely modern. Much of the musicians’ sound is a throwback, but there are modern production qualities at work here to bring it into the present. There are also modern techniques from the band, too. They’re very subtle, but you can hear it in their restraint. There are flairs of those twin guitar-style attacks, but they keep themselves from engaging in it too much. Otherwise it would be far too gimmicky.
Listen to “Nightland”. The intro riff is such a tasty lick that makes more sense coming from a vinyl record in a room of black light posters. The plucky little riff syncopated by splashing cymbals gives the whole song a uniquely nostalgic feel to it. This song might as well be wearing a frilly low cut blouse and bell bottoms. This is where our favorite genre came from, and I personally believe you have to know where you came from to see where you’re going. Let Magic Circle lead the way!