By: Matt Butler
Year of the Cobra | Facebook | Bandcamp |
Released on October 28, 2016 via STB Records
One of Lemmy Kilmister’s Motörhead bandmates once said of the late bassist: “Lemmy ain’t a bass player, he’s a rhythm guitarist.” The same could be said of Year of the Cobra’s Amy Tung-Barrysmith. Not that the band sound like Mötorhead (except at the beginning and end of ‘Persephone’), but because Tung-Barrysmith’s fuzzy bass provides all the necessary riffage on this album, the band’s debut full-length.
It’s a good job too, because a bass and drums (note the order – this is most definitely not drum and bass) are all they have got to accompany her powerful, melodic vocals. And for the most part, it’s all they need. The bass growls out a groove from the outset and the low fuzz is offset by the hooks and melody which are sprinkled throughout. And though the band’s sound is rooted in doom, they manage to show off a variety of influences despite their self-imposed limitations. Hell, they keep us more than interested over an eight-song album, which is an achievement in itself.
The duo, also comprising of Jon Barrysmith on drums, met in 2007 and played in separate bands until they formed Year of the Cobra in Seattle in 2015. Musically they must have connected immediately: they apparently wrote their first song, ‘White Wizard’ – one of the songs from their Black Sun EP of 2015, a beefed-up version of which appears on this album – within a couple of hours. A year and a bit down the line, they appear to have stuck to their ideals, avoiding the pitfalls of plucked notes and slapped strings that have befallen bass-led bands since time immemorial.
And their sound has been given a hefty boost courtesy of the famous Billy Anderson, surely the hardest working producer in heavy music today. And, no doubt to the horror of every Tony Iommi wannabe around the world, this album proves that you don’t need a guitar to play decent heavy music. All you need is a bass and a knack for cranking out decent riffs. Let’s face it, once you tune a guitar down to C or B, they are approaching bass-like frequencies anyway.
The album opens with ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’, which is largely made up of a monster stoner riff and some cavernous sounding drums. Tung-Barrysmith comes in for the final three minutes of the seven-minute song and her voice lends an instant other-worldly level to the music. ‘The Siege’ follows and with its rumbling, hypnotic riff thanks to a finger-bleeding series of bass chords and Tung-Barrysmith’s hook-laden vocals warning “They’re coming for us, beware”, it is a definite highlight.
‘Vision of Three’ slows things down markedly and despite some excellent drum work from Barrysmith, it is the only song on the album which could be enhanced by a guitar – perhaps a wailing high note here and there – just to provide a little more colour or texture. Tung-Barrysmith goes all Karen O on us in the following track, ‘Spider and the Fly’, a cautionary tale told in 6-8 time, with satisfyingly loud breaks. Then comes ‘Persephone’, which is another highlight. An atmospheric beginning is smashed into smithereens by the Motörhead style-frantic riffing mentioned earlier. This lasts barely a minute before a groove that Bootsy Collins would be proud of kicks into gear, to herald the vocals. It’s great.
‘White Wizard’ is up next and it is a crawling, stalking number, with a booming chorus. If you’ve heard it from the Black Sun EP, prepare to be blown away, because Anderson has worked some superb sonic sorcery on it. After the epic that is ‘White Wizard’, we’re hit with a curveball, in the shape of the punky ‘Temple of Apollo’, which is so catchy it could be used as the theme tune to a gritty Netflix series. It’s excellent and shows another facet to the band, as well as Tung-Barryman’s voice. The album closes with ‘Electric Warrior’, another slow, doomy, loud-quiet number, which ends the whole thing on a slight downer – but there’s no mistaking that this is a great album.
As Lemmy no doubt would have said when he fired his various axemen: Guitarists? Who needs ’em.