Monday 26 November 2012

Wo Fat - The Black Code (Album Review)

By: Lee J. Diamond

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 13/11/2012
Label: Small Stone Recordings

In summation of listening to ‘The Black Code’ a hundred times already, this is the definitive heavy sludge album of the year and the band’s best achievement to date. Who knows what they’ll conquer next musically, but it would have to be some of the most innovative music of this genre to top this.

‘Black Code’ CD//DD//LP tracklisting

1) Lost Highway (05:25)
2) The Black Code (10:05)
3) Hurt At Gone (07:54)
4) The Shard Of Leng (12:35)
5) Sleep Of The Black Lotus (10:14)

Wo Fat is:

Kent Stump | Guitar, Vox, Fender Rhodes
Tim Wilson | Bass
Michael Walter |  Baterie Mastodontica, Vox

The Review

Just when you thought Small Stone Recordings couldn’t find anything heavier, anything thicker to put out.   Enter Wo Fat to the label roster. This is not their first record, but it is their first on Small Stone, and easily the best record of 2012 so far. Texas riff rockers, Wo Fat, re-emerge as the heavyweight champions of the drop C tuning, sludge rock genre.  All of the elements that I love are involved, from Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix to latter stoner bands like Electric Wizard or Sleep But Wo Fat do not sound like any of those artists specifically, they have a unique sound, combining ingredients from each, and a thread of old fashioned rock and roll running through every track. One can’t help but ponder how much heavier can a band get than this, or how much more Sabbath can a riff sound? Do they think about that when they write this music, as if they're pushing barriers of loudness that haven’t been pushed? You can easily blow out your headphones listening to this band, and I mean that as a compliment. Too much awesomeness perhaps? 

Wo Fat’s newest ‘The Black Code’, is a five song, full length album. Three of the tracks run over ten minutes in length.  It is epic to say the least.  There are blazing guitar solos that sound like they’re running through multiple Big Muffs and amplifier stacks.  There are slide guitar parts that Jimmy Page would raise an eyebrow too and some off time signature changes separating them from any kind of mainstream hard rock bands currently going for a neo-Zeppelin sound.  The album opens with “Lost Highway”.  Nothing cooler than setting the tone of an album, by the laws of the road.  You can tell this band has toured their fair share by the way they gel, particularly the rhythm section.  Every snare hit is a micro-beat behind, or rather weighted and laid back sounding, as if the drummer is putting all of his strength into it. It makes the band sound road-worn.

Every great sludge band has this feel, the ‘slower is heavier’ philosophy.  This is the perfect introduction to the album, before splitting in different directions sonically, it’s an all-out rocker with a ‘whoa yeah!’ chorus every kick ass album should begin with.  It ends with a ferocious wah wah pedal solo that nails the Hendrix tone perfectly.  I was surprised at first listen, as most don’t get that sound in a vintage way correctly.  The title track continues with demented guitars harmonizing like an old Sonic Youth record before diving into a variety of melodic instrumental motifs.  Around two and a half minutes into the song, vocals come in and the album kicks off again, refreshed with a higher energy.  If it were not for these composed instrumental movements, the songs are pretty straight ahead, Sabbathy, ‘The Mob Rules’ Sabbath when they didn’t care about enchanting wizard imagery, and just rocked the fuck out.  But it is not long before they go back to the unexpected, connecting riffs and violent cymbal crashing beats, raising the volume up a notch to what’s already heavier than anything.  It is these composed noise sections that define the album. 

“Hurt At Gone” is my favourite song of the album.  The drumming is reminiscent of the quintessential John Bonham beats all in one song.  There are some wild slide guitar parts hovering over a heavy marching snare drum. The time changes are so obscure, I wonder how exactly does this band write?  Do they all follow the drum patterns, or do the riffs come first? This would be some impressive music to see live, very rhythmic and strange.  Nothing is predictable, and I suspect that’s the way they want it. This doesn’t sound like singer/songwriter music, like one dude is writing all the parts.  It sounds like the sum of its parts, like they’re all putting their fair share in, in order to come up with something more interesting.  This track also features one of the most bad ass guitar solos that I’ve ever heard, toward the end,

The album continues with “The Shard of Leng”, with a completely different vibe.  It begins mellow and airy. There’s some sort of mellotron, or vintage keyboard effect through delay to give it that ambient aura you don’t usually hear from a current stoner rock band.  This track lets the album breathe for a while, so that they don’t overdose on themselves with the riffs and sing-along choruses.  It lets me know there’s an overall vision here, and not just five songs thrown together randomly.  The mood of the album is altered so that the listener can take a breather and chill out for a bit.  More bands should do this, as opposed to full-on rocking out from start to finish.  I tend to get bored with albums that do that.  But again, Wo Fat sticks to a vision, surpassing the short view for something more ambitious.  Clocking in at twelve minutes in full, halfway through the song turns into a mid-tempo groove and the closest the album comes to a standard verse/chorus, verse/chorus number.  And just as it sounds ‘normal’ for lack of a better word, the song devolves into a percussive jam with cowbells and tempo changes. It’s confusing at first, but resolves to a slow-core outro that lasts about five minutes. This is where the band moves into the progressive rock territory and further makes me wonder, how does this band write?

Apart from the awe-inspiring guitar solos, it’s pretty complex music to compose for a trio, and even more over-reaching to stick in drop C tuning and come up with such a diversity of ideas.  And what better way to close this album, then a ten minute long, ‘mostly’ instrumental journey entitled “Sleep of the Black Lotus”. This defies the laws of recording studio engineering techniques, as they intentionally go for that blown out sound. The volume meters in the studio must have been peaking the whole way through, a technique called “brick-walling” where the meters are perpetually in the red. A lot of metal bands go for it, fail, and wind up with a crap sounding record.  Few can make this trick work to their advantage as Wo Fat do. This song is like a battle royale between a hundred riffs and sound effects. Dare I say, it delves into the avant-garde for what makes one hell of an album closer and a high moment climax to a mammoth sized album’s completion?

In summation of listening to ‘The Black Code’ a hundred times already, this is the definitive heavy sludge album of the year and the band’s best achievement to date. Who knows what they’ll conquer next musically, but it would have to be some of the most innovative music of this genre to top this. I wouldn’t be surprised if the band takes some time off after an accomplishment of this calibre.  But something tells me, Wo Fat has the imagination and capability to surprise us with another record this good, possibly better in the near future.

 You can buy the DD and edition vinyl here

Band info: Facebook Official Store