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Sit Around The Campfire and Rock Out - 90%

Oxenkiller, February 1st, 2013

All you would be “Prog rockers” take notes here; this is the right way to do “progressive metal.”

How I hate that term. Too often it means songs that are needlessly overblown, aimless and jumbled, with jarring sections crammed together that don’t fit, riffs that start, stop and change for no apparent reason, and no sense of effective song craft or even melody. But this: think of this album as like taking a journey across the desert. In a way it is; because themes of nature and desert life permeate this album throughout. You might think of the desert as nothing but a broad empty wasteland, but look closer: See the wildflowers, the sage brush in bloom, the shadows of the clouds overhead drifting off the distant mountains and the sun glowing off the nearby rugged orange rhyolite outcrops? Hear the coyotes howl in the distance? This is what Heibarger is tying to capture here.

So then, let’s start our journey. The intro track plays, you hear a laid back, bluesy rock intro. Early spring morning, desert in full bloom. Then the second track kick starts us with a roaring thrash riff and some hard stoner rock/ Black Sabbath riffs. Better get a move on, gonna be a hot one and dangit if I haven’t heard plenty of riffs like these before, but it’s just so well put together here that it still sounds great.

So then that takes us to our epic length track, “Tumbleweed.” Now before I go any further, lets just say there is an art to doing 15+ minute songs. Some do it by driving a slow, basic riff into the ground and subtly changing, building, and adding to it over time, and honestly sometimes that even works. But when it doesn’t work, it can lead to a quick application of the “Skip” button on the CD player. So, how did the classical music composers write 1 hour symphonies and still get people to listen all the way through then? Well, these guys figured it out: There are several distinct movements and themes running through the whole piece. All with varying tempos and variations of dynamics so it never gets boring, but here is the key. All the transitions between them are seamless, and they all tie together to one central musical theme. “Tumbleweed” begins with one of those loping along kinda riffs, before an ominous heavy riff gets things moving across the desert sky- is that thunder? Rain clouds? Dang great riff whatever it was. It reminds me of some of the thrashier Metallica riffs during their glory days. Some great lead work and catchy mid pace riffs follow, then the clouds break, the dynamics shift to a more subtle mellow vibe while the protagonist- whoever he is, perhaps he is “….a mysterious man, (who) lives in the desert, but never elaborates on its hardships…“ (to quote one of our desert dwelling forum users) begins to reflect “Have you ever felt the pain of a thousand snake bites?” But then, as he “Feels another gully washer coming on” we hear more epic thundering riffs, the tempo ratchets back up, and after a splendid feast of catchy pentatonic riffs, the song comes to a fitting conclusion that ties the whole thing together nicely. At the end, you feel like the song has taken you on a long scenic trip across the sagebrush desert, but then you look at your watch and never realized that the song has been playing over 18 minutes without a break. That is what listening to an epic song is supposed to be like.

Musically, the most fitting description of this album would be “Stoner metal.” That is, if you were to call it anything. But of course it is not that simple. Aside from the obligatory Black Sabbath and Kyuss influence, I hear some Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica mixed in, all for a very distinctive and very well written album. Even though I called it “Stoner Metal” I wouldn’t just stop there: these guys had way more ambitious songwriting than most bands that have been slapped with that label. Aside from the disc’s epic length centerpiece, the other songs demonstrate this nicely. “Dragon Sky” opens with a heavy doom-ish riff before rocking out with a killer head banging guitar workout. I guess after the afternoon gully washer is over and the tumbleweeds have come to rest, we get to look at a beautiful “Dragon Sky” sunset. If you’ve ever seen the sun set over the Owyhee Mountains of southern Idaho, where these guys are from, then you know what I mean. And finally, “Afterthought”- its getting dark, you sit around the camp fire, have a beer, smoke a…(cigar.) You hear what could be one of the mellower Sabbath tunes (such as “Planet Caravan”) segue way into a total thrashing riff, fists in the air, then cool down before the ending coda, which seems to tie the whole album together. Songwriting was one of these guys’ strengths. Even with the varied dynamics within each song, the transitions are never awkward or too abrupt, everything works. Even “Coyote Thanksgiving” which for some reason doesn’t stand out as much as the other tracks, seems to really work well in the context of the album as a whole; as it deals with either the desert wildlife or perhaps it’s weather-beaten, hardscrabble human inhabitants, depending on how you perceive it.

There is something timeless about this album and the way it sounds. While definitely metal, it harkens back to metal’s early blues and rock n’roll influences and fuses them together into something that works well in any era of metal you might have been a fan of. There is a lot here to please almost any metal head. Well, obviously if you only like black metal, death metal or one of the endless varieties of this-or-that-core music, you might not really “get” this. In any case, I do wish they had done at least one other album before disbanding as they really had potential. Maybe we can hope they get it together give it another go someday? Anyway, this is a release well worth tracking down.