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Too many bands out there take the influence of great bands like Black Sabbath, Kyuss, or Fu Manchu, and wring every ounce of life out of it. We've all heard generic clone bands riding the same watered-down Sabbath riff for an hour, claiming it's original long as you smoke enough weed. Same goes for the generic "we're flying into astral orgies, oh yeah baby" 70s retro bands who fail to really bring back any of the excitement and intensity of that original scene. This scene, like any other, is quite oversaturated, which is what makes bands like Solace all the more praiseworthy.
'Further', their debut full-length on MeteorCity Records, opens up after a brief recorded female intro (about how not to use music as an alternative to therapy, heh) with "Man Dog", a mostly midpaced groovy crusher which sure has a vaguely Sabbathy sound, but at no point does it (or any song on this album) come off as sounding derivative. Groovy, catchy, and strangely dark, Tom Southard's unique guitar work and fiery solos are the meat of what sets this band apart from the masses. Not in years has a band of this general style sounded so original, when you could turn them on without knowing it and say "yep, that's Solace". Frontman Jason has a somewhat Ozzy-esque voice in places, that almost banshee-like sheen when he's sailing along a really catchy vocal line, but most of the time you discover he has a much more melodic voice, he can carry a tune quite well and sometimes throws out an almost hardcoreish scream of anger (only on a single word here and there though, so don't worry if that's not your thing) which always comes as a surprise. He conveys a lot of emotion through his vocals, a rarity especially in this particular field of metal. Even the lyrics are startlingly brilliant, intensely emotional stuff but never maudlin or melodramatic, really artfully thought out stuff. It's a shame only about half the songs have lyrics written in the booklet...I read somewhere that it's because Jason feels some of his lyrics are too personal for him to want to write them out, which gives you an idea of his sincerity I guess. And as usual, they sport a rhythm section which would make legends like Sabbath proud, with a solid bassist who nails the feel of every song, and a drummer with a hell of a groove and unusual-sounding triplet-based fills in lots of places, all of which work quite well. The middle of "Man Dog" has a godly breakdown, with a riff that's almost swingy before the song goes into overdrive, building a very climactic refrain. These guys have fantastic attention to songwriting, and not a note is wasted. None of those stupid synth-based "hey, let's listen to sound effects and get stoned for the next 20 minutes" interludes that lots of bands think they can get away with. This is the real thing.
The next song, "Black Unholy Ground", has a pretty smartly-paced and totally bass-driven riff which, despite technically being played straight, comes off as jumpy and totally worthy of headbanging fury once the drums come in, playing a groove which kind of counters it but ends up working to the song's advantage. At first you can hardly tell is Jason's started singing yet or not until the second guitar kicks in (Tom does all the guitars on this album, far as I know, so it's still him playing), and the guitar lays back a bit, with some bent chords during the verses which keep spiralling up into each prechorus, reminding you they're definitely a metal band. The chorus, with Jason's almost robotic wails of "Remember the flood", occasionally leads into him shouting with anguish for a few bars (lyrics of course, not just random yelling). This song really shows us how diverse Jason's voice is, and every style he pulls off here requires talent, whether it be soaring melodies of pained accusations, whatever you wanna call it hah, it all works. The riffing keeps going from crushing riffs that floor you to bluesy leads, until we hit the solo section where at first it sounds like a lead on top of a solo, until you realize that Tom overdubbed himself so he could play rhythm & lead guitar in a way that he ends up playing 2 lead axes, playing 2 solos on top of each other, which never get incoherent and complement each other quite well. Another testament to his brilliant sense of songwriting and stellar guitarwork. Then we have some brief pauses in between riffs, not mallcore garbage but groovy rhythm parts which let the rhythm section breathe, reminding you of all that space the bassist so expertly fills while Tom is soloing and whatnot, and also showing Tom's not just looking to flaunt his skill or anything. Very tasteful stuff here, drawing to a gritty close.
Track 3, "Followed", is one of my personal favorites. A very gloomy bass intro with minimalist cymbalwork leads into a sparse verse that Jason sings with a very haunting edge, not melodramatic, just very well executed without going overboard at all. The drums carry the song with just enough groove without sounding repetitive or overly funky, and the guitar work is barely there but brings the vocals to a whole new level somehow. Then the guitar blows the doors open, distortion and all, with Jason kind of extending each line as the lyrics get kind of shortened each line from the previous verse, but he holds certain notes giving it an almost desperate feel, finally punching you in the face during the chorus of "Turn again, followed, will it end, followed", where he sounds like he's at rock-bottom mentally, screaming about biding his time. More godly riffwork, also very bass-based chorus. He also does some interesting rhythmic vocal patterns between choruses at one point, swinging certain words so that you almost wanna headbang to the vocals as the guitar cruises along bruisingly with crunchy rhythmwork. Then, after a brief bass pause which brings back the theme of the intro, we have another expertly crafted solo which sounds so well-written but not clinical or overly thought-out, and is one of my personal favorites on the album because of one section of the solo he plays twice which sounds like the kind of lead Tony Iommi wishes he could still write. The song closes out eventually with Jason shouting some cryptic-sounding lines on top of crunchy guitars, and the drums become almost frenzied as the ending goes into double-time, and when you think it's about to end, it goes into another calmer passage, and you realize this 8 and a half minute epic has passed you by, every second leaving you totally absorbed and catching you off guard at the end.
Track 4, "Whistle Pig", is a good song to first hear if you're deciding whether or not to get this album. It opens right up with a riff that's perfectly timed, the right chords held just enough so that it's catchy and, you guessed it, leaves you headbanging. Then, after a brief passage of drums and the guitar playing a weird-sounding lead that's pretty fast and has an almost watery tone, the song blows into full gear and your face lights up with a big stupid grin as this is exactly what you've been waiting for. Top-notch vocal performance and tasteful bass work, which is usually audible without being too loud in the mix. The chorus has slightly distorted vocals, which I usually can't stand but when used briefly here, it pretty much works in favor of the song's intensity, and doesn't last long. The in-between squeals of guitar and 16th note patterns on the ride cymbal boost the sense of urgency during the chorus (and the chorus is at one point done mid-solo, and Tom picks up right where he left off beforehand, another example of unusual songwriting which never sounds out-of-place of even strange).
Next up we have "Hungry Mother", a short acoustic song which, unlike many acoustic tracks which are put on albums just for the sake of breaking up heaviness, is actually beautiful, and literally one of my favorite songs. Yes, I'll admit it kind of reminds me of Planet Caravan, but I genuinely think this was intentional as kind of an ode (musically at least), because the vocals have the same kind of watery effect that they did on Caravan, even with the barely audible hand percussion. The lyrics are obviously very personal, and I for one really like them, kind of your Hemingway-esque quiet struggle against what you can't change, that sort of thing, but very poetically done. The song isn't long-winded at all, does just what it has to, and draws to a quiet close not even breaking 2 and a half minutes.
"Angels Dreaming" is the doomiest song on here, opening right up with a slow and sluuuudgy riff which doesn't even sound generic, but definitely will be envied by the likes of Electric Wizard (don't get me wrong, I like some of the Wizard's material, only comparison I could think of though). Jason opens the verses up with one line sometimes bleeding onto the beginning of the next one, it all has a very dirge-like feel. The chorus breaks up the doomy feel momentarily with Jason going into his slightly higher vocal style with another memorable melody before descending back into the doomy dirge about losing friends and deception-the lyrics to this one aren't printed, but far as I can tell, it's about someone who died, or maybe a missed opportunity? Hard to tell, I'm still working on that one, heh. More fantastic guitar/vocal interplay, Tom accentuating the end of each of Jason's cries with an almost vaguely galloping feel to the riffing but at much slower speeds. These guys keep pulling out one timeless riff after the other, whether it sludgy, bluesy, or just plain groovy, and never sounding too incoherent or derivative. Incredible.
"Suspicious Tower" opens up with a clip from some old sci-fi movie which I don't know the name of (and interestingly, they play a clip from what sounds like the same movie at the beginning of one song on their next full-length, '13') which is a dialogue between a man and a robot about creators, ending with the robot saying "you see, we are brothers". Then we have a frantic opening bass line with what sounds like more bass on top of that before the song blows the floodgates open with more of Tom's trademark riffing and a bluesy but fast-paced lead on top. The vocals for this whole song are catchy as hell, decrying someone's faults-"you hold on like you know that it's over, and give like it hurts"-good stuff. I can relate, haha. Then the riff...oh man. The sweet riffing simply doesn't end! I'm telling you, not one wasted note on this whole puppy.
The closer, "Heavy Birth/2 Fisted", is another godly epic, but doesn't start out sounding like it. After an intro of some backwards-played guitar reverb, they break into the greatest riff of all time. You have to hear it. Holy fuck. It's not 'fast', per se, but this is probably the fastest-paced song in the context of this album...the riff is just really propulsive, and Jason's scream fades IN, something you don't hear too often, which makes it a lot more intense, though when this part is repeated once later on he just belts it out right when the riff starts. More godly riffing, very interesting drum patterns later on, almost sinister leads with screaming solos that would make any guitarist proud, and a bass breakdown! THE BASS! A slow and well-written bass line collects some tomwork on the drums and spacey-sounding guitar work (only instance of that ubiquitous effect of the stoner rock genre on this album), and the drummer lays down a very nice rhythm on the rhythm for a measure or two while Jason croons to you before the song explodes again. The moods shift seamlessly while maintaining total consistency throughout the song, and this tom/spacey passage recurs at one point, more really cool tom rhythms which change slightly on top of a perfect bass line, showcasing some very tight rhythm section work. Almost quietly wailing guitar notes lead us back into the pummeling verses. The song draws to a close around the 11:00 mark, but the track continues with a little silence (you guessed it, hidden track) until at the 16:00 mark it has a couple of odd-sounding effects and a funny little ditty all of which sounds pretty old-fashioned (maybe it's from some old 60s record or something, I have no idea), almost carnival-esque but very brief, the actual track ends at 16:23. Amazingly intense closer, there's actually a demo version of this sucker on their 'Distanced From Reality' EP, which is a largely instrumental version (not completely, but it does have less vocals). I'd actually recommend
tracking down this EP, because MeteorCity reissued it on the same disc with a Solarized EP (great stoner rock) which is also fantastic called 'Eight Ways to Sunday', the disc itself is called 'Jersey Devils', worth picking up you can find it.
Bands like Solace are what every genre can use occasionally. Riveting, emotional, honest, totally original and absolutely ass-kicking, these guys will make you headbang like a motherfucker, reminding you that they're stoner METAL, though I don't think that term does them justice, it's so overused ('stoner metal/rock', I mean). I picked 'Further' up for $8 used, only place I could find it, and it might be the best $8 I've spent in who knows how long. A fucking masterpiece. Check it out.