Review Summary: Combining elements of blues, country, folk and gothic rock, "Smiling Dogs" superbly showcases what can be described as post-apocalyptic Americana.
Colorado native Erik Wunder may not be considered one of the most siginificant musicians in the underground metal scene, yet he's definitely on his way to be one very soon. Being responsible for the whole instrumental part of Cobalt's cherished black metal debut entitled "Gin," Wunder is a multi-instrumentalist whose interests surpass the metal realm. In fact, his new project Man's Gin is not a metal act at all being likely to attract completely different group of listeners that would have never thought of acquiring Cobalt's album. "Smiling Dogs" can be described as a booze-laden, dark spin on American roots music. The sole connection between this album and Cobalt's "Gin" lies in its themes. Both discs deal with the overall decay of civilization, each taking a completely different perspective on it. While "Gin" shows the whole destructive process, "Smiling Dogs" has some evident post-apocalyptic undertones in its lyrical content.
Combining elements of blues, country, folk and gothic rock, the album indeed showcases what can be described as post-apocalyptic Americana. This is the record that's capable of evoking depressing, yet surprisingly inspirational images ingrained in the prose of Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson. These writers are deservedly cited as a major inspiration by Wunder whose lyrics rely on apt, yet bitter observations of American lifestyle. This is accompanied by raw, stripped-down music projected by acoustic guitar, piano, upright bass and thumping drums. Being heavily influenced by the moodier side of Southern rock, the music has its own very drone-like style that has its unparalleled charm and beauty.
Even if Wunder often gets his message across at the expense of vocal style and diversity, his strong baritone voice complements this kind of heavy-on-atmosphere music perfectly. His emotive, often grumpy vocal delivery instantly recalls the likes of Eddie Vedder and Layne Staley. In general, Alice In Chains in their acoustic mode might be the main point of reference in enthralling, yet magnificently eerie "The Death Of Jimmy Surgis" which climaxes in a chilling guitar solo. The other standout song is surprisingly upbeat "Free" drenched in the lively acoustic passages of traditional delta blues and occassional fuzzy electric guitar. On the other hand, "Stone On My Head" has a classic rock'n'roll vibe made creepy by doubled vocal lines, whereas "Hate.Money.Love.Woman" combines folk with country in a catchy manner.
Despite rather obvious influences, "Smiling Dogs" is sufficiently diverse and has its own unique power of raw, unrefined beauty that drives every single song on it. The album also feels totally genuine and passionate throughout, which stands as a remarkable achievement for Wunder and his crew. Profound and ambitious music of this caliber is not composed very often these days.