"Slab City"

By The Great Sun Jester

Steak's debut full-length release from Napalm Records, Slab City, is a juicy sizzler. There's my one culinary reference used up. The truth is much cooler. If it was possible to mic the thoughts in my mind, it might sound close to the riff and groove storm these Englishmen manage to conjure on this collection. Silence is at a premium and we, the lucky listeners, are better off for it. Without devaluing the band's blazingly original voice, I will try providing a frame of reference for the uninitiated by dubbing them a sort of muscular, hard-boiled antecedent to the legendary "space rock" masters Hawkwind. There's definitely a strong strain of Kyuss, Fu Manchu and other "stoner" bands running through the band as an influence. Pointing this out, however, misses the point that this is a band with something infinitely finer and rarer. Vision.

  It isn't a vision to remake the wheel. When I'm writing about vision here, I'm writing about the clear-eyed assurance and damn the torpedoes disregard of current fashion that emboldens a group of like-minded musicians and composers. The simmering bass, ambient electronics, and wash of dissonant guitars opening the first song, "Coma", serve notice of that. Despite the band's gritty sound, the production is impeccable and captures each layer distinctly. Much of what vocalist Kippa unleashes on the listener is well nigh indecipherable, but no matter - the attitude conveyed and the impassioned bray its delivered with matter so much more.

 "Liquid Gold" kicks off with a simple, heavily distorted guitar riff that the percussion perfectly counterpoints. It is a heady experience anytime I hear a band that can produce such a focused, streamlined attack while remaining an intensely musical unit and Steak is no exception to this. Despite the relative simplicity of the riffing and the song's length, the music never seems stale. Rarely has a young band shown such an extensive control of dynamics that, frankly, already outstrips the same quality in their self-professed influences.

The title track, "Slab City", is brief, but energetically driven by a churning riff with plenty of strut to burn. On every track thus far, without fail, Steak generates a tremendous amount of energy riding stomping guitars like those heard here. This album, and likely the band's ethos as a whole, values sound and atmospherics every bit as much as riffs and chords. This manifests itself as a technicolor theatricality in the band's music - everything is amped up, inflated, and reeled out with colossal power. This is an essential part of the band's vision - seizing the template laid out by their illustrious predecessors and amplifying it, expanding on it, and an unity of composition and sound much, much deeper than the genre's progenitors ever dared reach for. Reece's guitars rampage through these songs like an invading army scorching everything in its wake.

Solo artist and legendary former Kyuss front man John Garcia makes a guest vocal appearance on the rollicking gem "Pisser". I advise those operating under the assumption that "stoner rock" is a droning or half-speed affair to ditch those simple-minded assumptions at the door when listening to this track. The hard changing riff gains additional velocity from the rhythmic section's propulsive, steady throb. The confidence is astonishing and present in every bar - this sounds like a fully matured collective of musicians on their first album. Garcia nails his guest spot to the wall with an impassioned vocal.

The instrumental "Quaaludes and Interludes" isn't long, but weirdly effective. If you see this album as a dizzy, feverish binge on fuzz guitars and cannon-fire drums, this instrumental is the moment in a party when you're buzzing too hard and the room starts spinning. It is the musical invocation of that blurry moment before collapse. Or puking.

 If the preceding song is the aural equivalent of the moment before a blackout, "Roadhead" is high speed drinking and driving. The band blasts out of the chute with off the scale energy, but the assault never sounds out of control. Instead, there is an intense white-knuckled focus zeroing in on the listener and the band never relaxes. One might say pedal to the metal, but really, this is stomping the accelerator through the floorboard and laughing about it. A ferocious, snarling blast of rock and roll.

"Hanoid" slows things down a notch with a deep groove that offers bassist Cam a chance to pepper the tune with tasty runs. This is a little more cluttered sounding then the remainder of the album, but the song's stately march held my attention from the outset. Like most songs on this album, "Hanoid" doesn't end so much as flame out in a dimming buzz of feedback.

 "Rising" finds the band once again upping the tempo, but the emphasis is on groove here rather than bulldozing the listener's senses. It's notable how sonically consistent the album is while avoiding tiresome repetition. Steak's riffing always holds a degree of melodic appeal and this song is no different. Kippa turns in another fine vocal of many and the rhythm section distinguishes itself again.

The closer, "Old Timer D.W.", is an idiosyncratic finale that revisits the musical themes strewn throughout the album while introducing new elements to the stew. A bluesy edge rises to the surface here. While guitar-oriented rock draws much of its creative inspiration and practice from blues music, Steak never plays that card as overtly as they do here. The main guitar figure of the song has a swampy excellence that immediately hooked me into the song.

 One of the best new releases this year and highly recommend.