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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Album Review - Ethereal Riffian: "Shaman's Visions"

Before gushing on how much I loved this trippy, atmospheric half-hour of fog, I'll break down why the name "Ethereal Riffian" so well suits these three Ukranians. I'd cracked this plastic thinking "Riffian" simply meant Stonezilla (guitars, vocals) could shred. While shredding IS one arrow in the band's quiver, a Riffian is actually an inhabitant of the mountainous Rif region of Morocco. It's noteworthy that cannabis plantations blanket the land there, which I'll pretend is coincidental to the band's name. So apparently an Ethereal Riffian is a celestial, spiritual, pot-growin' mountain man? Sure, but how does it SOUND?

It wouldn't matter if this album was divided into forty-seven tracks or just presented as one, you won't be skipping ahead. The five tracks they did manage to separate transition smoothly enough to leave the listener not giving a shit about song names or liner notes. What you will notice is that you've never heard anything like this. "Whispering of the Ancients (The Awakening)" puts you in a trance with chirping insects and gentle bongos, though you'd better keep your eyes peeled; it also sounds like something evil hovers above a canopy of trees. I wondered if I might be treated to Max Cavalera barking and growling, but Ethereal Riffian are able to stand on their own and carve a unique identity.

"Beyond (The Search)" continues slapping the sheepskin, but you're also finally hearing something human. It's as if an Azande tribesman is winded from a witchcraft extrication ritual, only he's also a sludge-lord stomping on an effects pedal. This song sounds like someone's being led to a sacrifice, perhaps where Venom's Cronos is overseeing the rites. Then the *ahem* riffage picks up and soars while building to an awesome, progressive groove. "Yax Imix Che (The Path)" picks up the coconut bongos and marches fifty yards to give way to buffalo horns and bouncing guitar. The listener's being firmly led by hand through the thick of a rainforest, cautiously. Saf (Bass) keeps the rhythm set to simmer just long enough for Olga's howl to tangle with Southman's frayed licks. Sounds shift into some killer skin-pounding drone, humming from what could only be another tribe's camp.

Loving the desert sound as much as I do, I couldn't have been thrown from my seat any faster than when "The Voice of Reason (The Enlightenment)" kicked on. There's enough fuzz here to keep pace with Palm Desert's best. The guitars and drums march in sync just until a brief, crunchy solo braces you for having your hair catch fire. This is the album's standout track, and in the morning you'll have a hard time crawling from your bed.

The nine-minute "Light of Self (The Truth)" closes the album, seamlessly moving between genres and influences. You'll almost hear a talkbox, though it never reaches full-Frampton. And you know that point in every great film where the protagonist falls on hard times, using opiates, losing his job and family, generally going belly up? This song should play during those sequences! Going from blues to sludge in the span of under a second doesn't sound like it'd work. It does. So do all the guitars and transitions on this hazy end cap. The song's fadeout sounds like Monster Magnet, but without the fire and tits. Ethereal Riffian aren't afraid to take their time, and they know you'll understand.

The guitars hit light, heavy, high, low. The drums go from a whisper to falling boulders. The vocals take a backseat, though their gravity isn't wasted. These guys are honoring the heavens, believing less is more, lyrically. These thirty minutes have plenty to offer, and you won't be disappointed. Whether it's sludge, doom, stoner, et cetera, you'll find it here. What you'll also find is a trip to a dense, sweltering, untouched world of groove and mist. Bring a backpack, a canteen, and a useless map. Ethereal Riffian is taking you deep into some pretty cool places.


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