Adapt or die that is very much the key to the continued existence of any musical subset and that is no more true than in the world of stoner rock. The world does not need any more tired rehashes of Fu Manchu/Kyuss/Monster Magnet circa 1996 and Small Stone Records are aware of this, and so are Lo-Pan…and thank fuck for that!!!
Sure, Lo-Pan have many of the familiar traits of stoner rock…the guitars are thick and fuzzy, the bass is fat and the rhythms rock ‘n’ groove in a nice warm blanket like Benny Grotto production job. Lo-Pan, however, also have a few tasty tricks up their sleeve. Hot on the heels of the revamped, re-amped, re-mastered, repackaged version of “Sasquanaut”, “Salvador” (named for their faithful sack truck that adorns the sleeve), is a bold, assured step forward for the band. Opening track “El Dorado” belies its Latino name with a twisting Middle Eastern style riff and soaring vocal that brings to mind some of Tool’s more accessible moments. “Bleeding Out” does betray the band’s stoner roots with a tasty, chunky four to the floor rocking riff though the band aren’t above fucking with their music and throwing in some off kilter twists and turns. It’s on the next track “Seeds” that Lo-Pan throw in every trick they have. The tune rocks out, it grooves, it messes with your head through spiralling, cyclical riffs and rhythmic tangents…this is both an album centrepiece and highlight in one.
After the pummelling of “Seeds” the listener will need to catch breath and Lo-Pan know this and so it is that “Bird of Prey” drifts in almost imperceptibly on an understated guitar figure and relaxed, breathy vocals. The mighty riff is never far away as the tune builds to a crescendo of classic rocking goodness that somehow comes over as equal parts Lynyrd Skynyrd and Soundgarden. In fact, the grunge titan’s presence is never a million miles from this release due in no small part to Jeff Martin’s clean yet powerful, soaring vocals. He is by no means a copyist but certainly plumbs similar emotional depths that eschews the whiskey addled, 40 a day growl on many of stoner rock’s front men in favour of old school soul, grit and power.
“Deciduous” brings the riffs thick and fast with another nod to the stoner rock that put Small Stone on the map. Amped up and amphetamine fuelled the song kicks along but once again the bands aren’t above throwing in some curve balls such as the Arabic twist that heralds the majestic pound of the mid section. Lo-pan, floor the pedal once more on “Intro”, a cheeky little instrumental that, in less than two minutes, displays so many of the attributes the band have shown so far…off beat rhythms, twisting riffs and some ass kicking rock and roll. “Chichen Itza” keeps the pace up high, tipping its hat to some prime 80’s style metal which is maintained through the next track “Spartacus” which has some vague hints of Iron Maiden within its stoner rocking charge. I can’t help but feel though that the band have missed a trick by not including the lines “I’m Spartacus…no, I’m Spartacus” in the chorus but hey, it’s their choice!!!
As you mop the sweat from your brow we find ourselves entering the home straight. “Struck Match” builds around a towering slow groove and betrays yet more hints of classic 70’s style rock. The space in the track allows Martin his finest performance so far as he pushes himself to the limits of his endurance. The guy must surely rank as one of the finest vocalists in this particular field; in fact as I listen I hear a definite similarity to Keith Caputo from Life Of Agony in his impassioned delivery.
“Generations”, continues the album in a familiar vein, big on riffs and grooves but doesn’t really stand out as much as some of the other tracks here. By no means a weak track in its own right, just not as great as some of its predecessors. Things certainly end on a high note, however on “Solos”. Not an ego stroking exercise in musical masturbation as I first feared but a powerful groove fuelled slice of prime riffery that sees Martin delivering his most catchy and insistent vocal line yet. All is not as it seems though, as with “Seeds” Lo-Pan delight in pulling more treats from their goodie bag and swiftly push the riffs aside to pull everything down to a barely there ambient crawl that builds into a monolithic rumble.
“Salvador” is a statement that seems to sit right at the heart of the Small Stone vision for 2011. It’s stoner rock Jim but not as we know it. The beast is mutating into something that is threatening to burst out of its own skin as bands such as Lo-Pan keep one eye on their 70’s rocking heritage but shoot it through with some 80’s metal fire and, dare I say it, some prog rocking tricksiness. Lo-Pan may have entered Small Stone by the back door with “Sasquanaut” but with this release they’ve taken up residence in the best armchair and assumed dominion over the remote control and are daring all comers to usurp them.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall