Review Summary: A totally astounding, full-fledged attempt at high-octane stoner rock.
It comes as strikingly unfair that certain high-quality records get totally unnoticed. The debut of Kentucky-based Asylum On The Hill is one of these unfortunate instances. Quietly released by Dutch independent label Suburban Records, the album just flew under the radar once it came out back in the late 2010. It's a shame since "Passage To The Puzzle Factory" is evidently one of the most frenzied, engrossing and fun heavy rock albums that have been released lately. The band is led by charismatic guitarist/singer Dave Angstrom whose resume includes such stoner rock juggernauts as Supafuzz and Hermano where he was the leading songwriter responsible for plenty of riff-fueled bonanzas.
"Passage To The Puzzle Factory" effortlessly combines the influences from the previous Angstrom's acts into one astounding hell-of-a-disc that abounds with massive, yet infectious riffs as well as truly dexterous songcraft. The musicians keep the tracks appropriately complex and multi-dimensional in order to avoid the boredom that often plagues stoner rock releases. "La Pistola" demonstrates it perfectly with its imaginative tempo and mood changes. As multi-layered and fast-paced as they may be, the songs have nearly always an anthemic vibe to them containing huge choruses sung by Angstrom with genuine passion. That's why, the album succeeds in being both highly addictive and sincere.
Aside from being an ingenious guitarist, Angstrom really excels in singing. While his lyrics may not always be particularly ambitious, he more than makes up for it delivering an impressively varied performance that consists of demented yelling, vivid chanting and baritone crooning. His vocals sound familiar, but never preposterous when he channels such vocalists as Ian Astbury, Layne Staley and even Elvis Presley. Moody "Forevermore?" with its wide-angle emotional delivery serves as an excellent exemple. The singing coexists with constantly pulsating, groovy rhythm section as well as imaginative guitar shredding which blends smooth, fuzzed-out harmonies with precise, frequently abrasive attacks. This is superbly showcased in epic "Go Tell It On The Mountain" that interestingly begins with heavily distorted guitar and punctuated drum beats only to transform into a hypnotic spoken-word verse section followed by a trademark sing-along chorus.
While most tracks follow the same effective heavy rock formula ingrained in fuzz-laden desert rock, psychedelic blues and playful rock'n'roll, there are several surprises along the way. "Some Kind Of Wonderful" is a surreal tune that seems to provide a commentary to the album's bizarre cover. Whereas, "Last Ride" featuring Danko Jones can be described as a rapid Motorhead-inspired monster of a track. Similarly to Supafuzz, the quartet has a tendency to mellow out every now and again in the second half of the disc. This results in an admittedly charming acoustic love ballad in "Stones Will Wash Away." However, there are some heavy songs in this part of the album that don't work so well. Both "Honey Bee" and "Seasons Of Hurt" are lacking in hooks of way better compositions occuring repeatedly in the superior first half. Therefore, the record comes as overlong and somewhat unfocused. These drawbacks could have been easily eradicated by a more restricted selection of songs on this extensive, over-an-hour-long album.
Even though "Passage To The Puzzle Factory" doesn't really reinvent the subgenre, it certainly keeps it alive and well. Despite a few minor missteps, Asylum On The Hill show how a killer stoner rock album should sound like displaying the precision and aplomb worthy of the most coveted artists.