[19th February 2013]
[Southern Lord Records]
02.Think Tank Breed
04. In Droves
05. Still Melt
06. Mortar Head
07. Crutching Trails
09. Soiled Roots
10. Russian Spirits
One of my favourite things about heavy music is being able to clearly identify a band’s influences through their sound. Whether it’s the amplified, distorted blues of Cream and Led Zepplin, the Chuck-Berry-on-amphetamines approach of Motorhead, or the metal infused Bad Brains riffs that Cro-Mags made their name on, it’s always uniquely satisfying to see bands blend their influences to create something new and unique, that they could call their own. Even after so many years of listening to countless bands and releases, I still enjoy combing through liner notes (and today’s equivalent, Facebook pages and websites), looking at band shirts musicians wear (assuming that they are not breaking the holy Iron Maiden rule…), and listening to cover songs to determine a band’s influences and comrades-in-arms. Since I am not a musician myself, I sometimes find that the most accurate way for me to describe a band’s sound is to compare them to other, already existing bands and genres.
As I had never listened to or even heard of Baptists previously, I was excited to take the opportunity to listen to their new record Bushcraft knowing only that they were a hardcore band from Vancouver. I did Google the term “bushcraft”, and the results didn’t entirely surprise me because the band are of course, Canadian. (I’m from Buffalo and have nothing but love for my neighbours to the north).
On first impressions, Baptists are reminiscent of Doomriders - basically a band with roots in hardcore and an unabashed love for metal. The guitar work is like that of Converge and Botch- at times heavy and straightforward, with the occasional breakdown and a lot of unusual twists and turns. There are also a few slower, quieter songs with riffs reminiscent of Earth (specifically their first two Southern Lord releases). As a result, the finished product has its own sound. It contains an unsettling, slightly sinister vibe that it more than owes to the sublime work of Swans and Godflesh, and yet it is stripped down and raw enough to cause marvel at the fact that the sound was achieved without a designated programmer/keyboardist/musician equipped with a slew of unusual instruments. The vocals are harsh and caustic without being overly technical. The rhythm section lulls into a subdued pace during slower guitar riffs, but is explosive and punishing for most of the record.
Bushcraft clocks in at twenty-seven minutes, with most of the eleven songs well under the three-minute mark. The record starts out on “Betterment” with feedback and a foreboding riff, after which weighty, pounding drums kick in at the thirty-five second mark to take the track in a more traditional hardcore direction. On “Bullets” the band’s impressive bass work comes to life with a gripping distorted bass riff juxtaposing effectively against squealing guitars, which give way to a slow, steadily driving (almost) breakdown. The title track is crushing and ominous but with a serious groove- probably what it would sound like playing a Pantera record backwards (I am a bit tempted to try this). Compare this to “Soiled Roots” at over five minutes in length, is by far the longest and most pensive track on the record. Slow, sludgy bass lines are layered with guitars that alternate between an equally sludgy grind and southern-influenced riffs. The vocals on this track are more deliberately paced as well, allowing the vocalist to be more defined and emotional in his delivery.
Upon first listen, this is a good record. After subsequent listens, and going through it track by track, it is a really good record that totally fits Southern Lord’s mantra. It is a lot more dense and textured than I thought it was initially, and the band’s influences (a few of which are readily apparent) are manifested in unusual and creative ways. If you’re a fan of Southern Lord’s back catalogue then this is a definite new album to add to the collection.
Bushcraft is out now on Southern Lord Records.