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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Album Review - Herba Mate: The Jellyfish is Dead and the Hurricane is Coming

Herba Mate are a band out of Castel Bolognese, Italy who specialize in fuzzed out desert rock of the finest form. To say these three guys worship at the altar of Kyuss would be an understatement. And you know what? I say if you're gonna wear your influences on your sleeve, you sure as hell can't go wrong by choosing the genre's originators as your muse.

Back in 2008, Herba Mate (a play on the name of an Argentinean variety of herbal tea), isolated themselves in a farmhouse in the Italian mountains in hopes of recording a few songs for their upcoming EP. The sessions were so successful however, that the guys ended up with enough material for their first full length album. The Jellyfish is Dead and the Hurricane is Coming is that album and it is rife with head nod inducing riffs, enough tempo changes to make you dizzy and a few surprises along the way.

After "Machumba", which serves as the album's intro, the band introduces us to their sound by way of "Imargem", which builds off a single distorted guitar courtesy of Andrea Barlotti, and is accompanied by the steady drum beat of Ermes Piancastelli. The song ultimately transitions into a full blown, stoner rock improv session. It is an organic, free flowing instrumental that features a series of interesting effects, all of which are created solely by the band's instruments (no synths here). Herba Mate's sound feels…in a word…alive.

"Aragosta vs. Panther" follows and it has the same feel to it, only this time there's more groove and we're introduced to a new feature of Herba Mate…their vocalist/bassist Alessandro Trerè. That's right, this is no instrumental trio, these guys feature a gravelly throated, raspy lead singer and when they slow things down long enough to harmonize, their "oohs" have that same eerie effect as those found in a lot of early Queens of the Stone Age tunes. This song transitions from its catchy rhythm into another loose and unpredictable jam before the guys reel it right back into the original groove. The tempo changes and stops and starts sound so fluid and effortless, it's as if the three band members shared one brain when recording The Jellyfish is Dead....

"Dos Estrellas" picks up the pace of the album significantly and the vocals here are equally as intense as the previous song with the refrain "we're going to miss you" snarled over a fast paced rhythm and driving guitar run. And "Nicotine" does its part to keep the pace frantic. The song starts off sounding like the musical equivalent of craving a cigarette, all spastic and mindless before the instruments converge to create a solid groove…like that first pull off a smoke when you finally get it. This is the first of two straight instrumentals, the second of which is "Bugs", a song that starts off kind of quirky (check out those effects in the beginning) and melds into a mishmash of funk and metal…this may be Herba Mate at their heaviest.

"1 to 65" is the last song to feature the singing of Trerè and it is a blend of everything that these guys do so well. It has a heavy groove, aggressive vocals and an amazing, extended jam shoved right in the middle. "Tres Estrellas" is a near seven minute instrumental that is as beautiful as it is dense with riffs, fuzz and more punctuated stop/starts…kind of like a combination of Kyuss and Tool. And the album comes to a close with "Sputnik" (named after the band's farmhouse studio, not the satellite), which starts with trippy, ambient noises and ends with a calm, peaceful acoustic guitar solo.

Honestly, I know people say this about a lot of albums, but there isn't a bad song on The Jellyfish is Dead…. The album flows from start to finish and while you never quite know where the band is headed next, they never veer into "experimental/noise/what-the-fuck-is-this" territory. Herba Mate will take you on a journey, I promise you that…and I encourage any fan of stoner/desert rock to check this band out, because it is a journey well worth taking.

Track Listing:

01 Machumba
02 Imargem
03 Aragosta vs. Panther
04 **
05 Nicotine
06 Bugs
07 1 to 65
08 ***
09 Sputnik

Band Members:

Andrea Barlotti - Guitar
Alessandro Trerè - Bass/Vocals
Ermes Piancastelli - Drums

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