Saturday 16 August 2014

The Well - Samsara (Album Review)

Album Type: Album
Date Released: Sept 23rd 2014
Label: Riding Easy Records

Samsara - track listing:

1. Mortal Bones
2. Trespass
3. 1000 Lies
4. Lucifer Sam
5. Refuge
6. Eternal Well
7. Dragon Snort

Band Members

Ian Graham – Guitar/Vocals
Lisa Alley – Bass/Vocals
Jason Sullivan – Drums


On their debut full-length, Austin psych-doom trio The Well have a lot to be proud of. They manage to resurrect the bluesy fuzz of proto-metal acts like Blue Cheer and Mountain. They hit that sweet spot of head banging fun and occult mysticism in their lyrics and vocals, with Graham and Alley doubling each other in nearly every song, creating an ethereal vocal style all their own. They manage to start the album with a (Rod Serling?) sample about the Temple of Amun Ra without coming off as pretentious, if only because the opening track, “Mortal Bones,” unleashes a riff so heavy it could be the soundtrack to the movement of tectonic plates. Perhaps most impressively, Alley has made appropriate use of a bass wah pedal in a post-Red Hot Chili Peppers age on album highlight “Trespass,” which also boasts a deceptively simple solo from Graham, with tone as thick and sweet as wildflower honey. The Well manages to put the “power” in “power trio” without tons of overdubs. The album almost comes across as a live record, occasional flubs and all. The rhythm section remains tight enough to provide ample background for Graham’s fuzzy, sometimes sloppy blues-based solos, but also can get loose enough for you to bob your head and maybe even move your hips to.

It would be hard to classify a record as rough around the edges as a “concept album,” but Samsara, likes its namesake, revisits the same lyrical and musical themes while exploring the darker questions of human existence. To keep this as brief as possible, samsara is a concept in several Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and others, that speculates that the universe and souls exist in a cycle of continual birth, suffering, death, and rebirth; the trap of this wheel-like structure is not perceiving the reality behind the illusion of existence. It’s all quite heady stuff, but the members of The Well seem to be trying to mine deeper themes for all the retro-rock swagger. On songs like “Lucifer Sam” and “Refuge,” Graham’s lyrics can come off as willfully obtuse, but probing the left-hand/right-hand god and devil imagery of Christianity, or making ominous references to dark magic and unnamed gods, there’s a clear push toward thematic cohesion.

If tracing a distinct concept is difficult work, it helps that the album rocks pretty hard and holds up to repeated spins. On a purely sonic level, these guys are true masters of tone; seriously, that thick midrange tone in that “Trespass” solo will make analog-obsessed guitarists weep tears of bitter envy. Somehow, through the fuzz, the bass, the pop and crash of Jason Sullivan’s restrained drumming, Samsara stands apart from some fellow retro enthusiasts in that you can hear distinct instruments, notes, harmonies, etc, instead of a clattering wall of reverb.

My only disappointment with the record is that, by and large, Graham and Alley double each other line for line, with little room for their distinct voices to take center stage. When Alley does on “Refuge,” it’s haunting – I’d love to hear a song centered around her plaintive, melancholy vocals on their next release. And Ian Graham’s vocals at the end of “Eternal Well” dip right into soul, with a bit of Lovecraftian madness poking about the edges. I’m confident that a band that is so sonically proficient will find the room to grow on the next go-round, but for those who like ragged blues licks, proto-metal, psychedelic rock, and a healthy dose of doom, Samsara is a worthwhile exploration of human and inhuman darkness.

Written by Mark Ambrose

Thanks to Richard at Sheltered Life PR for sending us a promo to review. Samsara will be available to buy from RidingEasy Records on Sept 23rd 2014.

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