The forests haven't been the only things blazing in Montana this summer. Stoner metal duo Swamp Ritual has a new album out and it's sonic fire. Evacuate your families; call the fire department, this one's out of control!
Their second offering, Sunchaser, sees the band simultaneously incorporating new elements into their sound while building on the style of its predecessor, Ritual Rising. The result is a pot-laced auditory attack that feels like a natural expansion upon their style since their debut.
There is growth in all of the right places. The outcome is a deep, fuzzed out sludge and bark-like delivery of the vocals that the band has been honing since their inception, but the songs are longer, the riffs are slower, and the bite is stronger than that of their previous release.
The first track, for which the album is named, sets the tone for all that is to follow with a weedian blues powerhouse. Dustin and Sid lead us on a slow journey through the void of interstellar space without bringing us back to earth and setting us square on our feet, which is more than fine by me. The title track also serves as a perfect transition to the marathon effort of “The Bearded Dragons,” which, clocking in at exactly thirteen minutes, is the longest song on the album by far.
It seems to me that the most common mistake that a doom or stoner metal band can make is to put too much emphasis on the vocals, such that they start to sound, at the end of the day, like something out of the 1970's except with heavier bass and slower delivery. To my pleasure, Sunchaser is in no danger of erring in this way. The vocal sections are short and sweet, and their abrupt, abrasive delivery reminds me much more of the Melvins than The Sword, or Red Fang. On the title track, for instance, the vocals don't kick until about a third of the way through the song. Throughout much of the album, vocal sections are spaced out from each other in all of the right places.
Speaking of short and sweet, I can't finish this review without discussing “Lawnmower,” a shotgun blast of a track amid the fuzzed out sloth of the other songs. While not of the same ilk as the rest, its inclusion nevertheless remains one of my favorite aspects of the album. It's less than three minutes in length, making it the shortest song by a long shot. It comes at you like a bullet - or a bong rip - and provides some comic contrast in comparison to the slow onslaught that comprises that rest of Sunchaser. Belting out “I mow the lawn when I'm high!” serves as a reminder that not everything should be taken too seriously amid the slack, saturnine tread of the other offerings on the album.
After sampling the foul fruit of their efforts, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I wholeheartedly approve of this release. On Sunchaser, Swamp Ritual sound as if they are leading a sluggish army of the stoned undead over the ashen remains of Montana's scorched woodlands. Good job, fellas.