Vae Victis by Wounded GiantRelease date: April 1, 2017
Label: STB Records
How’s this for an over-simplified hypothesis with no basis in research: I believe there are two strands of doom. One is rooted in metal, in direct lineage to Black Sabbath and all their occult spawn. The other stems from punk, with sneering dystopia influenced by the nihilism and horror (and, let’s be frank, excellent riffs) of bands like The Misfits, The Stooges or even Black Flag. I may be wrong. I have been before. But it seems to my battered ears that some bands who dabble in doom have a snarling, buzzsaw, annoy-the-neighbours-and-smash-the-state approach to their downtuned fun and games, in addition to their worship of The Riff.
Wounded Giant may be one of these bands. And it comes as no surprise that the trio linked up with the Seattle deity Tad Doyle in their early days, for his most recent band, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, also channelled the mohicaned end of the musical spectrum amid their tar-thick tunes. And Wounded Giant seem to do so from the start, on the title track to this release, ‘Vae Victus’ (“woe to the vanquished”, history fans). They are unafraid to throw in a double-kick segment or a left-field time signature in order to hold the attention.
Yeah, it starts with a thudding riff which lurches this way and that, in familiar doom territory, but the song – not to mention the rest of the album – is steeped in psychedelia, but has a meanness to it that brings to mind the likes of Unsane or High on Fire. You know, stuff that has a little spooky, unhinged edge to it, like someone you see in the middle of the day on the bus, who is clearly high, but you’re not sure on what.
If you are familiar with Wounded Giant’s back catalogue, you will know that it was not always this way. Their debut long-player, Lightning Medicine, from 2013, was full to the brim with enormous riffs, but there was not much there that you hadn’t heard before. This time, on their debut for STB Records (and accordingly released with some droolingly good looking vinyl options), they have honed their craft, as well as their musicianship.
Billy Anderson – you know, the guy who made the Melvins sound like the Melvins and who seems to be in constant demand with the current generation of riff-peddlers – deserves some credit for his part in this album. The sharp sounding yet cavernous drums and low, growling, buzzing bass of Dylan A. Rogers have Anderson’s paw-prints all over them.
‘Dystheist’ is the second song and it is as dystopian as the anti-religious title suggests. Vocalist Bobby James paints a horror-movie scene with deep intonements (“Thy will be done, death from above, the gods are hungry, it has begun”), while drummer Alex Bytnar pummels the bejeezus out of his kit. It is earth-shaking and window-rattling at the same time. ‘Emmanentize the Eschaton’ changes the pace dramatically with its spooky repetitive keyboard vamp and sampled spoken vocals from what sounds like one of those scary movies from the 1970s, which were light on gore but heavy on psychopathy.
The mental torture (in a good way) continues with ‘Scum of the Earth’ which is back in riff territory but is shot through with James’s snarling of “lose control, lose control, don’t ask me why” to set you on edge. Imagine taking tea with Aleister Crowley, then you realise too late he has spiked your cucumber sandwiches. ‘The Room of the Torch’ fades in as if it is the beginning to a seance, before James goes all stadium rock on us and announces “This is a love song – I’m howling for you baby,” before giving us a none-too convincing rendition of a wolf under a full moon. It would be cheesy if it weren’t for the doom-laden riffs building underneath.
Speaking of scary riffs… ‘Green Scar’, the album’s closer, has some glacial ones which stone cold put the shivers up you. But the song gets into its groove, it boasts an enormous chorus (“Unholy light, shining,” James howls) which serves as a fitting end to the record. Buy it – it’ll not only get your head nodding, it will offend your grandmother. And you can’t say punker than that. Even if this is a doom album. But I have a theory about that…