Like many of you, I’m always scrounging for something heavy to introduce to my non-metalhead friends; something that can be tossed on at a party without thought or kept in the pocket for crowd-pleasing carpooling tunes. Modern stoner rock lends itself particularly well to this task. With vocal lines that favor the melodic over the harsh, and comprehensible tempos and grooves, the intimidating hurdles of extreme music are left to the wayside and listeners can get to what matters: quality songwriting, smart hooks, tasty leads, and (most importantly) the riffs. Further, the genre is now brimming with a colorful cast of bands that are basically tailored to serve every niche, drawing influences from pop, prog, psych, punk, noise, blues, post-rock, and pretty much anything else you can think of. After some time with Irata’s latest, Tower, it’s clear that this will be my go-to rec for those on the cusp of metalhead-dom and beyond. Not only do they check the requisite boxes for greener (behind the ears) listeners, but there’s also a depth present that places Tower among the cream of this year’s crop.
Tower introduces itself with a brawny, sludgy bludgeon that may seem too heavy to be buoyed. But like the Melvins, Irata maintain a lightness with an agile, almost bouncy undercurrent tucked into the rhythm and invigorating, wild-eyed vocals. As the record unfurls, this contrast proves to be a worthy point of examination as the (now) quartet unearths a variety of ways to bridge this gap. Drummer/vocalist Jason Ward controls much of this heavy/light dichotomy with his employment of tirelessly thunderous (and often clever) drumming and uplifting vocals, but the ace in the sleeve seems to be the utilitarian role-playing the amplified members take on in each track. There’s an egoless air to each track as the guitars, bass, and drums take turns carrying weight, augmenting what the song requires as opposed to doling out a “signature” sound at every given moment. “Waking Eye” dials back the crushingness of the opener a smidge, but it lends a similarly Melvins-tinged flavor with guitars that drop in and out, freeing up space to chunky bass, shifty rhythms, and layered vocals. The track’s rhythmically driven and angular nature has something of an early Tool vibe, but the bridge lays out a subdued, calming build that hints at the dynamic eruptions to be found later on the record. “Leviathan” also balances delicate and weaving guitars with wily leads, pensive tension building, and corkscrewing riffage that feels like a non-dad rock version of recent Mastodon output.
“Weightless” begins a shift to a lighter sound, linking the sunshiney feelgood stoner pop of Torche to alternative rock. Ward’s timbre calls to mind that of Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell, capturing a similar exuberance and vibrancy. Almost as if presented with a smile, he beams “SO GOD DAMN BEAUTIFUL!” in a way that’s refreshingly life-affirming, bright, and contagious. The way in which Tower wears its heart on its sleeve gives it a unique character with emotions that are infectious and varied as they are genuine. “Innocent Murmur” takes things in a little different direction with a mellower, more sombre tone, but nonetheless effectively develops empathy without feeling forced or put-on – it’s a truly beautiful track that’s by no means heavy, nor does it need to be. Alongside similarly grunge-informed heavy acts like Helms Alee, Irata have a knack for drumming up a stir of emotions without vocals. As mentioned above, the ever-shifting nature of their compositions keeps the instrumentation fresh and ear-tickling dynamics regularly in play. Sparse moments are minimalist and fragile, but dense segments are intense without becoming overbearing or undecipherable. Whether through the surprising addition of horns or the spidery, intertwining leads and synths of “Crawl to Corners,” the trad metal harmonies and punchy accents “Golden Tongue,” or the proggy unfolding of closer “Constellations,” there’s an undeniable authenticity that makes the record emotionally resonate while also logically connecting the dots of their sound. Their songwriting dictates their range and heaviness instead of the other way around, and it shows. Irata owes no debts to any riff-guzzling deity.
On Tower, Irata’s forward-thinking spin has broad appeal as well as some adventurous depth. It all really boils down to quality songwriting and a diverse sound that is convincing at every turn. Where others may have “a slow song” or a “song with the (insert dumb riff name here) riff,” Irata are just doing their own thing and it couldn’t feel more right. This isn’t an exercise in performing a certain kind of way or to meet certain expectations. It also doesn’t hinge on mind-warping technicality, amp abuse, or whatever kind of schtick that the kids like these days (face paint? costumes?), but it brings these elements to the table in a way that will have you reeling now and keeping a close on on Irata moving forward. It’s just good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, the way we grew up to know it.