Labels enjoy a fair bit of vitriol in this day and age and not a whole lot of it un-justified. They’re an organization which seems archaic to us, even predatory, considering the ease of digital distribution. But what’s right for the big labels might not be for the smaller ones and one of the facts that many people overlook is that labels can also be a powerful curation tools. To be sure, big monoliths aren’t exactly useful for that; they’re massive businesses and they’re most concerned with what sells rather than what’s good. But with smaller labels, who have less grandiose capitalist ambitions, you can find a more highly cultivated roster of bands, revolving around a sound, a scene, and, most importantly of, quality.
That’s the case with Small Stone Recordings, who have been specializing in doom, stoner, rock n’ roll, and just about everything fuzzy since 1995. Under their roster, you can find psychedelic music to fill your heart’s desire, containing plenty of riffs, bass, and overdrive. Like JIRM, who are a re-invention of a much more veteran (and more cumbersomely named) band called Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus. Under this new acronym, JIRM released Surge Ex Monumentis in 2018, a towering release filled with kick-ass riffs but also long, drawn out meditation on the virtues of the guitar, coupled with powerful vocals and a mighty production. The only reason I discovered this album is because I trolled through Small Stone Recordings catalog following their release of the magnificent Tower by Irata, earlier this year.
Back to JIRM though; the basic tension described above is what runs this album. The first track for example, “Candle Eyes”, is a straight-forward heavy metal assault, channeling Ronnie James Dio more than anything else, especially on the vocals. But the following track, “Dig”, is a twelve minute and change sprawling epic, starting off from meditative, sonorous undulations that remind us of The Samsara Blues Experiment. It ends in a high-octane kind of stoner metal, heavy repetition, loud groove section, and mighty solos ushering the track towards its conclusion. The album oscillates between these two modes, driving its sound further and further into high pitched articulation as the album goes on.
The result, like much of Small Stone’s roster, is some damnably contagious heavy metal meets stoner rock. Surge Ex Monumentis just pops, feeding of its own energy, reminding us all the while that trawling through back catalogs, especially those of smaller labels, is a damn good way to find some amazing music.