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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Nuclear Dog's Atomic Split: Egypt - "Egypt" / Egypt - "Become the Sun"

Back in 2003 or so a group of 4 metal heads from Fargo, North Dakota recorded a demo of 4 original songs in an effort to book out of town shows for their newly formed band. Long after its recording, long after demos of this nature are typically useful, this smoldering lump of coal of a demo simply would not die, and over the course of the next five plus years its popularity among stoner/doom lovers proved to be quite formidable with a resounding, growing clamor heard throughout the stoner underverse, creating enough of a stir to eventually get remastered as an EP in 2009 that met with respectable success. So goes the telling of the birth of Egypt, both the band and the EP, an underground entity in an underground world of metal music that created something special enough it not only transcended the usual limitations met by new, struggling bands, and demo EPs, but excelled to the point it now has a strong following. After the official release of the EP Egypt laid low for the next few years, only surfacing again at the end of 2012 with the release of their first LP, 10 full tracks that try to reclaim the same magic as the little EP that back in 2003 kicked major stoner ass, and continues to do so.


For my tastes this 4 track album is just about as good as 4 stoner songs can be. I recognize there isn't anything earth shatteringly new contained within the four white walls of "Egypt",  but there are 4 songs contained therein that are as sharp and hefty as a newly forged broadsword and wielded with the same dexterity and power as the ancient warriors who engaged in battle with fierceness and joy.

There are three main qualities on this EP that tend to set it apart, the first of which is the deliberate tempo employed and executed on all 4 songs. No one ever gets in a hurry, the songs unfolding in measured cadences that build slowly and powerfully toward exquisite bluesy, heavy, stoner climaxes. The second quality is an achingly clear guitar that is hauntingly beautiful, and deliciously down tuned and fuzzy. Thirdly, the vocals by lead singer and bassist Aaron Esterby are enticing, intoxicating, and penetrating in their power and robustness. It is truly a voice for the ages.

The lineup at the time of release for the EP was:

Aaron Esterby - Bass / Vocals
Chad Heille - Drums
Ryan Grahn - Guitars

The jewel in the crown is the opener, "Valley of the Kings", a haunting, muscular journey through the sands of time, evoking an incredible nostalgia for a time only dreamed of through the wielding of the double edges of Grahn's guitar work and Esterby's shearing and clear vocals.

"Queen of All Time", too, builds slowly but deliberately through a fantasy landscape of magic and power, carried forcefully, eloquently, inexorably forward by the power duo's mastery.

"Dirty Witch" picks up the pace a bit, with a slightly lighter touch, this time carried as much by Heille's masterful punching drumwork setting the pace for guitar and haunting vocals.

"Touch Ground" provides a haunting, lazy float down a river of fuzzy blues that provides a clear, clean, beautiful rendition before Esterby's vocals ever enter the fray, amping up the experience when they finally do.

A wonderful hallmark of "Egypt" is the 7 plus minute length of each of the 4 tracks, with "Queen of All Time" coming in over 9 minutes, giving value for coin invested.

The little EP from a little known trio out of North Dakota became the EP That Could, forging notoriety out of near perfection of artistic rendition. Something this good, this satisfying, this singular, would surely engender a long line of successors over the coming decade . . .

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We pick up the narrative quite nearly a decade after the cutting of the 4 track demo that eventually became an EP for all to hear as Egypt have now released their first full LP, "Become the Sun". It's not always an easy thing to be a band, I suppose. Creating quality music alone is enough to sway the minds of many . . . wait a minute, who am I kidding, no it's not. There are way too many 'wanna be' bands out there creating music not worthy of the rock n roll moniker. Thank god and grey earl tea Egypt were tenacious enough to hang on to whatever hold they had for the chance of recording more of their heavy, fuzzy, deliberate brand of metal by eventually recording and releasing "Become the Sun", albeit after a significant time had passed.  So, were they able to capture the magic once again? The danger was there for a sophomore slump if for no other reason than the lineup change of adding guitarist Neal Stein to replace the departing Ryan Grahn, especially given the strength of the guitar work on the EP, with the crisp, cutting, bluesy chords and riffs hauntingly executed by Grahn.

Well, the thing is, the change in guitarist is obvious enough, even though many of the tracks on "Become the Sun" were recorded before the change in lineup. However, that obviousness does not translate into degradation of any sort. The duties bestowed upon Stein as the new guitarist are carried out with skill and grace on the songs in which he unleashes his riff wielding mastery and solo slashing.

Add to the dexterity of a new guitarist the singularity of the old vocalist. Esterby continues as lead crooner, and picks up where he left off with what has to be one of the richest, most incredible rock voices in existence today, at least in use throughout the stoner/doom pantheon. I would rate his vocals on a par with John Garcia of Kyuss fame, due to a certain quality within his lyrical renditions that few vocalists have, a certain attribute or characteristic when singing that creates a one of a kind timbre or tone as the words unfold in his dulcet tones.

The songs created for the LP are a commendable collection of intriguing, enticing, and memorable melodies. The slow, steady, earthquake like power Egypt displayed on the EP remains the standard for the LP as well. Egypt are able to allow the listener to fully engage in each song by laying out riffs and solos of sublime fury, runs of melancholy and fuzz, that build and grow, festering slowly until everything percolates and spills into a climax of sheer musical pleasure.

The first song of note is the opener "Matterhorn" hearkening back to the EP of the past decade with the familiar bluesy clarion of the deliberate riffs and aforementioned singular vocals, both a welcome revelation that Egypt have departed minimally from what they had earlier established and we had earlier enjoyed to a significant degree.

Four tracks in is the wonderful "Stalker", my favorite song on this new album, unfolding at a more energetic tempo and taking full advantage of Esterby's clarion bell vocals. The riffs are pure stoner magic, pushing up against the edge of clarity with wonderfully distorted licks and runs. Immediately following is "Hillside" which can be described in a similar fashion to "Stalker" without the song itself sounding like it came from the same template, instead sounding like an original take of a musical tale complete with a scorching, bright hot solo effort.

The next two tracks are smoldering haunted mansions of doom, utilizing deliberate tempos combined with crystalline solos of white hot fury. Esterby conjures up a special level of vocal asperity on "World Eater".

Egypt pay tribute to one of the forerunners of stoner/doom music, a legend of the Seventies, Deep Purple, with the song "Black Night", which they play with relish and skill, reviving a track that has surely been languishing far too much given its age, but will now enjoy a mini revival thanks to the rockers from North Dakota.

Coming in at just 2 seconds under 11 minutes is the closer "Elk River Fire", a wonderful and ambitious romp of a song where the guitar dominates from beginning to end, foregoing typical structural execution, seemingly moving in and out of solo after solo for the first several minutes, and then moving into the background for an extended period of drumming dominance where Heille gets to outshine his typical brilliance by stepping front and center for a significant time and blending perfectly with Stein's guitar work.

While the sound may be slightly different on "Become the Sun", it is only slightly. There is still quality, still a heavy, fuzzy, beautiful selection of fine and enduring music, worthy of classifying Egypt's first LP as high quality, as an album that will, without a doubt, become a favorite among stoner/doom metal listeners for ages to come. Perhaps until the Valley of the Kings again arises from the desert sands.

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  1. Hell yes. Holy shit!
    Been a fan of that EP for years now but I didn't know they released a new LP, those new songs kick major ass!!!! Thanks for not letting me miss out!


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