Like any musical genre Stoner Rock has its giants, those gifted artists and exceptional bands that produce a product easily recognizable as superior in many ways. The second half of 2013 will witness some of those giants - known giants, up and coming giants, and obscure giants of an obscure genre - releasing new and heavily anticipated music. One of those Stoner Rock giants, in the minds of fan and critic alike, is in the top two or three currently active bands, and could very well retain that lofty status once their music has been consigned to history. This is a band recognized far and wide for the quality of original fuzz it has produced over the course of a decade and change, sporting music of gargantuan riffs and melodic song structures, consisting of a three man line up that has seen only one member change over that time. It is a line up consisting of all-pro rockers, supremely talented, motivated, and passionate to their fuzzy metal cores.
I am talking, of course, about the behemoth band Sasquatch, who have recently released their fourth album on Small Stone Records, aptly and succinctly titled "IV", following after the timeless "III" of 2010, the jaw dropping "II" of 2006, and 2004's self titled notice of arrival.
The lineup for Sasquatch includes the newest member, Jason Casanova, who has been with the band now since just prior to the release of their monster third album. He has not only seamlessly fit in, but has perhaps brought a higher level of intensity and musicianship by wielding his bass like a wild-eyed, claymore brandishing berserker, full of fury, passion, and, above all, skill.
Providing tectonic reverberations is the timeless Rick Ferrante, equally ferocious in his impeccable wood on skin pummelings, perpetuating the same excellence as has been demonstrated on all previous releases, and providing timeless and unmatchable continuity throughout the band's legacy of fuzz.
Providing the meat, the origin, and the monster riffs that define Sasquatch is the incomparable Keith Gibbs, a bona fide artistic giant, whose song writing skills and masterful six string manipulations are powered by his unique musical gifts and a heart as big as the hairy beast for which the band is named. Add to that vocals of perfect pitch and power and you have an artist of exceptional chops.
"IV" has been heavily anticipated, with a festering fervor brewing through the three year gap since their last album was released, an album that was highly, and rightly acclaimed as a hallmark achievement of supreme musicianship and quality. That kind of success, along with the sustained success over three great albums in a decade, breeds both anticipation and apprehension. Anticipation for what surely will be another superb rendering. Apprehension for sustained quality, perhaps. We expect lightning to strike yet again. But there is always that little kernel of . . . not doubt necessarily, because there is no reason to doubt it . . . trepidation, maybe, that our good fortune with the Sasquatch lottery might run out on this ticket.
So, what is the verdict for the fourth album from a bonifide Stoner Rock giant? In a word, magnificent. Talent in all areas meets passion in the same, generating a cascading onslaught of gargantuan, heavy, beefy, fuzzy riffs, beats, hooks, and melody. THIS is what you want a stoner rock album to be, an intoxicating experience of sound that permeates through every pore and infiltrates to every cell, leaving you lusting for an immediate repeat injection.
One of the coolest aspects of Sasquatch's music is that none of it feels calculated beyond the simple intent of playing what they've made, which, given their immense talents in songsmithing and song execution becomes an intensely enjoyable experience, especially when played loud, and, for my preferences, up close and personal through high quality headphones.
Many of the songs on "IV" represent growth for the band as they explore new paths just outside the boundaries they set on the first three albums. They do not deviate from their strengths so much as develop new muscles of deep stoner fuzz that build upon that strong foundation. The album, though, also contains a smattering of tried and true Sasquatch tunes, so take heart those who fear change. It's an album with the best of all worlds, standard tracks that deliver that comfortable old fuzzy cardigan, songs with fresh direction generating excitement and deep energetic release, and songs that are signature Sasquatch capable of sliding into I, II, or III, as well as giving IV that deep blues rock grounding for which this threesome is known.
"I've Got a Message" opens the album with energy and fun, delivering a song that's a little like a steamroller barrelling full force just out of control down a steep San Francisco boulevard.
Next up is "Eye of the Storm", a tour de force in radioactive output and exposed nerves, in which the band veers away a bit from what has been their signature style without abandoning any part of their tried and true sound. If anything, the tandem strings of Gibbs and Cas deliver larger caliber munitions in a cacophony spray of distorted ecstasy driven relentlessly forward by Ferrante's feral roar of lumber on skin. This song is heavy with anguish and pain, intentional or not, with gargantuan heart and unimaginable skill providing one of the most satisfying tracks of the year from any and all rock sources.
What follows next is a series of songs that demonstrate for the fourth time in a decade the brilliance and thrill of the blues rock riddled, distorted, fuzzy riff rages of one of rock's most talented threesomes, who both go a far piece to define a genre while rumbling loud and long within its own craggy niche. From "Sweet Lady" to "Me and You" are five sagas of anguish, betrayal, and pain as relayed through fuzz boxes and high caliber amplifiers in the employ of a trio of warlocks of distortion. Joining in on "Smoke Signal" are Mr. Small Stone, Scott Hamilton on guitar, and Gozu's Marc Gaffney on vocals, slathering juicy relish onto what was already a juicy, meaty morsel of soul stomping sound.
The penultimate track, "Corner", is a brilliant uptempo full speed tank ride, straight ahead, powerful, constructed and executed to perfection. The only knock on this song might be it's too short! Of course, it's the perfect length, I just hated to hear it drop to silence after a frenetic 3 minutes. Sasquatch more than make up for it on the closer, "Drawing Flies", an eminate slow burn of unyielding intensity that bores its way through to the very core of the listener's tribal origins, striking a long lying primal chord with harmonic perfection.
The threesome of Sasquatch each demonstrate the highest levels of musicianship and craft on this album, especially in service of low tuned and slow burning musical intensity. Gibbs' guitar is power and brilliance, mining the depths of blues fueled fuzz with passion and grace. Casanova is a marvel of booming reverberations dexterously executed. Ferrante yields a smooth, effortless, yet vigorous prowess with his virtuoso performance on drums. Gibbs, too, is a master singer whose vocal instrument is exceptional on every note, every nuance, and every inflection. All is blended together and perfectly executed in the service of inventive, perceptive, and resourceful song writing. This is an album of note, perhaps made all the more so when considering it's the fourth in line of exceptional releases, a position that for many would expose a threadbare vein of artistic provender, but for this band, instead, reveals new direction, incredible passion, and songs for the ages.
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