Review Summary: A commendable summer album that strikes a fine balance between rock fury and accessibility.
What exactly constitutes an ideal summer album? ASG (once known as All Systems Go) is a North Carolina outfit that tries to answer this question with its fourth full length Blood Drive
. A delightful cover art already evokes a laid-back summer atmosphere. The quartet follows suit, delivering an appropriately sun-drenched brand of stoner rock. They've done a grand job of integrating soothing melodies with heavy rock arrangements that place groove-laden guitar riffs at the forefront. In consequence, ASG's style closely resembles Torche's stoner pop aesthetic as it ditches the gloom in favor of a more radiant approach, yet it tends to be more meditative in tone with a notable psychedelic rock vibe that stems from spaced-out guitar leads. Producer Matt Hyde aptly enhances the hyper-melodic style of the foursome with the mix that's dense without being overbearingly heavy.
Unlike many of their peers, ASG don't opt for lengthy jams and complex song structures. Instead, Blood Drive
is a streamlined collection of tunes that are ingrained in tight songcraft rather than improvisation, an approach that was especially prevalent in the 1990s. ASG actually reference such coveted acts as Stone Temple Pilots and Hum not only in the manner they structure their songs, but also Jason Shi has a strikingly similar voice timbre to some of the greatest singers of that period. The album's immediate appeal lies in the frontman's powerfully emotive cleans which elevate many of these tunes from passable to truly enticing. Shi also proves fairly versatile delivering subdued croons as well as demented screams whenever a song calls for them.
The quartet constantly oscillates between robust hard rockers and eerie psychedelic ballads, which results in a reasonably varied presentation. Most numbers don't sound overly familiar, meshing up a wide array of influences in an inspired fashion. While there are absolutely no obvious blunders on Blood Drive
, the highlights are also few and far between. The track that truly stands out is “Earthwalk” which, despite its title, comes as a blissful foray into Hawkwind-esque space rock perfectly blending atmospheric guitar leads with Shi's ethereal performance. Moreover, the record reaches its peaks when it settles on such stripped-down tunes as “The Ladder” and “Blues For Bama,” both boasting memorable hooks on top of terrific, if conventional arrangements.
The foursome's uncanny knack for merging melody, groove and energy is clearly in full swing. Thus, Blood Drive
makes for a perfectly enjoyable summer album that achieves a fine balance between rock fury and accessibility. While the record can get overly homogenous and safe at times, it never ceases to be a legitimately fun listen. ASG are on the cusp of striking gold in the growing realm of hook-laden heavy rock. Even though this LP may not be a complete game-changer, they are certainly on the right path to come out with one sooner rather than later.