Greenleaf seem to be something of a “stoner rock” supergroup featuring various members of the defunct Dozer and vocalist Oskar Cedermalm from Truckfighters…although the bulk of members are so heavily weighted in favour of members of Dozer that in personnel at least it almost seems like a reformation. Now, this is where I will show my ignorance as I’m not particularly au fait with Dozer and I’ve never heard a note of the Truckfighters but that at least allows me to approach this release without any expectations laid down by the members’ other projects.
Diving into this latest release from the band, given their heritage you may well expect some thick, syrupy stoner rock and, yeah, that is true to a certain extent but from the first few bars of opening track “Jack Staff”, it’s clear that Greenleaf are here to do one thing…rock!!! It does have its roots in stoner rock as well as the bygone days of big hairy 70’s rock but songs are tempered with big radio friendly choruses and almost pop like progressions. Don’t let that word pop put you off, this is far more than a band throwing a few riffs together and calling them songs. Greenleaf clearly show consideration for each part of each song and each element is designed to dovetail into one whole. The art of song writing is clearly the key here over showboating at flash.
The afore mentioned “Jack Staff” alongside “Case Of Fidelity” and “Lilith” are a strong opening trio that keep the pace and the vibe high. Dozer may have been accused in the past of sticking a little too closely to the Kyuss blueprint but here there is arguably more in common with QOTSA’s more commercial leanings, albeit with far more weight and sonic depth. Cedermalm’s voice is also a strong suit within the band possessing a classic rock tone that, to my grizzled ears, isn’t a million miles away from former COC, current Leadfoot front man Karl Agell albeit with more control and a keen ear for a good harmony.
After being smacked upside the head by the opening trio of tunes, “Tree of Life” flips the vibe on its head. More experimental and somewhat darker it displays a certain psychedelic side to the band and allows them to explore their different extremes between their loud/soft dynamic. Maybe not as conventional in structure as the songs that precede it, it still pulls together, albeit in several directions, to present a cohesive whole. On “Dreamcatcher” Greenleaf delve into big balled rock territory; a riff heavy 70’s vibed stomper backed up by some subtle organ textures that add weight to the Sabbath meets Deep Purple aesthetic they’re pushing.
“At The Helm” starts off with a more conventional stoner rock meets doom kind of sound but quickly evolves into something of a mini epic as it lurches from lighter passages to thicker, weightier grooves with consummate ease that belie the nautical theme of the song’s title. Although it may not be the most immediate song on the album, it is saved by a chorus that is pure pomp!!!
“Sunken Ships” is certainly something of a standout track riding on a deceptively simple yet effective guitar line but layered with almost haunting vocals from Peder Bergstrand and some truly beautiful harmonies all of which sit atop a driving and uplifting rhythm. This is where Greenleaf set themselves aside from the bulk of the stoner rock fraternity as few of their peers would be capable of creating anything with half the level of depth displayed here. Greenleaf take a small backwards step on “The Timeline’s History”. It’s still a strong song but steps further into stoner rock territory than the band have done thus far as it rolls along on an uptempo Sabbath style groove but doesn’t offer much more than a lot of other bands have done in this style. As the band have shown elsewhere, they are capable of producing work that is far more distinguishable and…well…interesting.
Clocking in at over 8 minutes and featuring the keyboard talents of Spiritual Beggars and Opeth man Per Wiberg on keyboards it is clear that Greenleaf are putting the title track out there as their big epic statement…and it works. The vocals of Fredrik Norden are restrained and clear as a bell. Wiberg’s organ takes centre stage (ooer) on a song that owes so much more to 70’s progressive rock than it does to the big assed heavy rock shown throughout the album so far…though at the halfway mark the song adds some more meat to its bones, ups the fuzz quota and brings the groove in no uncertain terms. In this one song alone, Greenleaf show they subscribe to the ethic of leave them wanting more.
Most bands that could be considered side projects do run the risk of falling prey to presenting sub standard material that doesn’t make the grade for the members’ day jobs or from having to rush to write and produce an album to fit various schedules. Not so Greenleaf, this is as fully realised and, in many ways, far more cohesive and structured than a lot of music that is around out there in the murky world of stoner and retro rock. Is it a classic, not really but this is certainly a strong foray into 70’s retro rocking goodness and worth a few spins at the very least, as repeated listens open this particular listening experience up each time.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall