Last October I went to the Days of Darkness festival in Baltimore, MD to see Blue Oyster Cult play alongside a number of esteemed metal, industrial, and hard rock acts. Among the other bands on the lineup were Philadelphia psych rockers Ecstatic Vision, a rising star in the heavy music scene and a breath of fresh air in an increasingly polluted sea of generic stoner rock bands. Having been a fan of their recorded work since 2015’s debut Sonic Praise, I knew I was in for a treat when I settled in for their set — instead I witnessed not only the set of the weekend (a hell of a feat up against one of the greatest rock bands in history) but one of the tightest, wildest, most blown out live acts I’d ever seen.
Though I believe that the true power of this group doesn’t come through in studio recordings nearly as well as it does live, Ecstatic Vision’s discography so far has been really solid and has shown the wide variety of their musical influences and the incredible amount of talent contained within the group. Their latest album, For the Masses, out now on Heavy Psych Sounds, has been highly anticipated after last year’s ripper Under the Influence, and it does not disappoint. One integral element of the band that continues to be seamlessly worked into their highly original psych rock blend is their devotion to their influences. Under the Influence is busting at the seams with killer covers, including a totally fuzzed-out take on “History of Man” by Zam-rock legends Amanaz, and while For the Masses sticks more to original tunes, they still manage to remind the listeners exactly who helped them get where they are.
Before I even get to the ear shredding, psychedelic freakness happening inside, the album art for this record deserves some special attention. Amidst the bright colors and tripped-out fonts found adorning their earlier records, For the Masses has a classic, simple black and white cover with the band’s name boldly on top of a nostalgic 70s-style photo of vocalist and guitarist Doug Sabolik mid-rapture. When this artwork was released several months ago, I and a number of other fans did a double-take, seeing something very familiar on our screens.
Ecstatic Vision wasn’t just calling up the aesthetic and energy of the early 70s psych rock guitar gods who preceded them, they were paying direct homage to one of the most important rock records ever put to wax — 1971’s Split by the almighty power trio The Groundhogs. Frequently cited by the realest of freaks like Earthless and Ty Segall, The Groundhogs have made an indelible mark on psych and hard rock, so much so that I’ve decided to give them some love over at the Den of Antiquities in conjunction with this album’s release. To acknowledge them in such a big way is just more evidence that Ecstatic Vision not only knows how to bring the insanity, they also know who to thank for cracking their heads open.
As for the album itself, For The Masses starts with a brief, spacey instrumental track that functions as the blast-off into the insanity to come. In general, a 2-minute intro track rarely does much for me aside from motivate me to start the record on track two and unfortunately, it’s no different here. But the vaguely shaky start definitely does not stand in the way of the power of the rest of the record. The proper start of the album comes with “Shut Up and Drive”, a single that was released a few months ago and is much more indicative of the quality jams to come. This album is a fully zoned out, blasters firing, drug-soaked trip to the cosmos that does not let up until it crashes you back on earth, fried out of your mind.
Ecstatic Vision is devoted to their craft, and insists on being firmly planted in their image, which makes For The Masses really feel like something dug out of a time capsule was sent out to Saturn and returned covered in brain-melting alien-borne fuzz. Song titles like “Yuppie Sacrifice” harken back to their square-hating ancestors and remind stoner metal what its all about — fully freaking out the suits until they run out of the venue desperately trying to hold together their fragmented skull. By the time the rest of us crawl out of the rubble left by the album’s expansive, and fully shredded closer “Grasping the Void”, you’ll be dying for a piece of whatever stash these guys are fueled by, ready to transcend.
For The Masses is a formidable release from the most freaked-out band on the scene right now, but it still does not come close to conveying the experience of catching them live. Their studio albums make for seriously convincing proselytizing literature for a space age acid cult, but to see them in concert is to be properly taken to church. When our alien overlords come to conquer the planet, you can be sure that Ecstatic Vision will be high on the mountains pounding out the score to our intergalactic destruction. Until that time, I cannot wait to see what part of my brain they melt next.
For the Masses was released on September 20th. You can grab it via the band’s Bandcamp above.