Solace’s last full length masterpiece, 13, was released in 2003, but they have given us enough little teasers in the meantime to reassure us that they hadn’t dropped off the face of the planet. Their contributions to a split E.P. in 2004 included a swaggering and memorable cover of Link Wray’s Rumble. And their 2007’s The Black Black, while technically only a four track E.P., still gave us about thirty minutes worth of quality riffs.
Still, the recent release of their third full length album, A.D., was greeted with open arms and tears of joy by the heavy music loving brethren and sistren around the world. “Yay!” did they cry. “Verily, it is a momentous occasion! I shall bring out a barrel of our finest wine, my dear, we must feast to mark this special day!” Or something like that.
So what’s so special about this band anyway? Well, it’s interesting you should ask…
To explain, I’ll have to give you a quick history lesson. Apologies if you already know this bit. I’ll try to use dot points where possible so you can easily skip over the parts you know.
Heavy metal started in the mid-70’s with a band from Birmingham, England, called Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath’s music combined three key elements:
- technical precision, particularly from lead guitarist Tony Iommi and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne;
- an underlying ‘grooviness’ provided by the rhythm section, through the swinging, cymbal-heavy drums of Bill Ward, and the independent noodlings of bass maestro Geezer Butler; and
- a mood of ‘heaviness’, provided by the use of detuned, distorted guitars, minor chords and slow doomy sections, and dark imagery in the lyrical themes and artwork.
Different bands took different elements of Black Sabbath’s sound and ran with them:
- Speed and thrash metal bands like Iron Maiden and Slayer took the technical precision and heaviness but lost the groove. Metallica tried to bring some of that groove and swing into their music in the mid 90’s, much to the consternation of many fans;
- Hard rock bands like AC/DC ran with the precision and groove but lost the heaviness;
- Grunge had groove and a modicum of heaviness but didn’t quite have the technical impressiveness of their metal contemporaries (but got close at times with Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and the like);
- Doom metal riffs were overwhelmingly heavy, but slowing things down takes out a lot of the groove out of the music, and the vocals weren’t much chop either; and
- Death metal got close at times when they rocked out (a la Entombed), but reducing their vocals to grunts and growls cost them some points off their technical precision rating too.
As technology improved through the 80’s and 90’s bands were able to bring a new element to the sound: modern production techniques. However, very few bands were able to successfully recombine the key three elements of Sabbath’s sound, even as late as the early 90’s.
Kyuss bridged the gap between the rocking, vocal friendly grunge bands of the early 90’s and the heaviness and technical precision of the metal scene. Their guitar sound was low and heavy, but was pushed along by a rocking rhythm section, with great singing and solo work to boot.
Then Solace came along.
They took all of that, wrapped it up and added some of the imagery and doomy heaviness of yesteryear, finally approximating the brilliant combination of key components originally showcased by Black Sabbath.
Sure, there are Sabbathy moments on this album, like the instant transformation two thirds of the way through Six-Year Train Wreck, and Kyussy moments too, like in the slow, dreamy buildups of Borrowed Immunity and From Below.
I’ve got no problem with bands being influenced by other bands. I don’t think any artist is ever completely original or free of influences. As regular readers will know, as long as the influences are worthy, and are treated respectfully and not just blatantly ripped off, I’m OK with it. It also helps if the band can bring a little of something extra to freshen up the old formula.
In this case Solace wear their Sabbath and Kyuss influences on their collective sleeve (ewww!), but play original riffs and write great songs, as well as adding the clean, precise sound afforded by modern music production techniques. In short, they bring a lot to the table, so you can forgive them their obvious influences.
There’s plenty of room for the vocalist, who inhabits the lofty regions once stalked by the likes of Osbourne, Cornell and Garcia. Lead guitarist Tommy Southard rips out Iommi-esque riffs like they’re going out of fashion, and the rhythm section generally swings along at a nice middle tempo underneath it all, accommodating some really rocking moments throughout.
There’s enough variety among the nine tracks to hold the interest of even the most marginally convinced listener. There are some fast ones to kick it off, and a couple of short fast songs mixed in with the longer, slower stuff further on. There are plenty of twists and turns and complexity in the longer tracks too. Overall, this is an album with nine strong and interesting tracks.
The production duties are handled by a bloke called Benny Grotto, who stacks layer upon layer with a trowel here to great effect. He’s worked with another band recently called Gozu who I haven’t checked out yet but will be sure to get onto soon.
This is a worthy addition to the heavy music oeuvre that rediscovers and reweaves the key threads of the glory days, adds a modern sound and brings a new level of creativity and artistic vision to boot.
If that doesn’t sound like your thing, you probably stopped reading at the first dot point, but if not thanks for sticking with me, and stay tuned for Felix’s look at the latest Spiderman PS3 game which will be posted soon – you know it!
And, of course, if that does sound like your thing then you probably should check out this new Solace album.