Review Summary: A brooding, crushing, and powerful starter from Texas’s finest stoner rock act.
If you’re a big fan of the stoner rock genre like myself, you most certainly heard bands that are more well-known like Kyuss, Monster Magnet and Orange Goblin, as well as smaller but equally strong and competent acts. One of these is the powerhouse trio of Wo Fat whom became more recognized with such releases like 2012’s “The Black Code” and 2014’s “The Conjuring”, and if you listen to them you will quickly realize why. Those albums were a perfect combination of the two sides of their music: the bluesy, hard rock structured, straightforward songs with a heavy vibe of doom metal and the freehanded, psychedelic jams that often make you feel overwhelmed by the whirlwind of riffs, feedback noise and “all-over-the-map”-like solos. Despite the fact that many of their songs exceed the tenth minute mark, the flow and dynamic nature of delivery makes all transitions smooth. Their sound is thick, the songs layered, complex but at the same time catchy and vibrant.
What’s more interesting is that every single one of their album manages to differ from one of another, by simply putting the main emphasis on the different areas of the stoner rock sound. For example the gloomy Electric Wizard-like stoner doom of “The Conjuring” and the tripper, space rock influenced madness of “Psychedelonaut” both sound own entities despite having the same musical DNA. In that regards the band’s first album “The Gathering Dark” feels more like the band putting the foundations of their sounds, rather than going fully overboard with it or stretching its limitations.
The first song “The Wolf” immediately sets the tone and feel of the record with a Sabbathian intro before turning into a head crushing mid-paced rocker. Kent Stump’s raspy vocals and vacuum-sounding guitar sound are absolutely dominating and not to mention the riffs immediately catch the listener with their groovy dynamic. However in the last two minutes the song slows down as Stump lays down a lengthy and impressive guitar solo with the echo of feedback noise and background leads. In fact many of the songs in this album follows this formula of building up with groovy hard-hitting mid-paced leading riffs for the most part, then contrast these sections with calmer passages and melodic solos like “Dreams Of Milk And Honey” and “Manchurian Syndrome”.
Fortunately the album doesn’t falls into repetition or boredom due to two factors. One is the consistency and variety in the way these guys offer Tony Iommi-like riffs. The interjection of the blues and southern rock is very clear especially if you listen to songs like “El Burjo” and “Risin’ River” that sound like old-school tavern classics only with an extremely heavy distortion and the odor of marijuana surrounding it. With 12 songs and a 78(!) minute length there is a lot to discover on “The Gathering Dark”, but it also makes the album a little overstuffed and kind of exhausting experience especially if you listen to the whole affair in one take. Even if the songs mostly clock between five and eight minutes.
There are two tracks I would like to make a quick shutout to: One if the title track which the loose southern swagger of and pushes it to the nth degree, before finishing in a fast paced, headbang-inducing manner. The other is the closing instrumental epic “Runnin' The Vodoo Down” with its ritualistic drumming, psychic freakouts and disoriented aura, thus creating one hell of a finish for this record. With its tight and excellent musicianship, well-crafted and confident songwriting, vigorous sound (quite a feature for an independently produced-released album), “The Gathering Dark” shows us a band that knows damn well what they are doing. And if anything their future recordings are big proof of that, as they are equally great and exciting as anything the contemporary stoner scene has to offer.