Seeing as nobody wants to use the term stoner rock, it seems that these days any band who have managed to locate a fuzz pedal and tune down past D are keen to describe themselves as psych. It’s therefore refreshing to see that there are labels out there like Cardinal Fuzz and Little Cloud Records who are pedalling the real thing, allowing the good listener to explore the outer realms of consciousness from the comfort of their own home.
I can’t claim any prior knowledge of The Cult Of Dom Keller, or indeed who (or what) Dom Keller might be. I’ve drunk enough continental beer to know that keller is the German word for cellar, which doesn’t really get us anywhere. The interweb informs me that CODK have been around since 2007, that Ascend! is their sixth album, and that they’re from somewhere in England… Devon? Nottingham? Leeds? Perhaps not the most productive bit of internet research.
Anyway, to the matter at hand. On Ascend! CODK offer up seven cuts of properly wigged-out psych, with two brief interludes to break things up a little. I gather that previous releases might have featured vocals, but Ascend! is essentially an instrumental album. Vocals are used extremely sparingly and, on the rare occasions when they do crop up, are buried under so much reverb that they might as well be another instrument.
The album kicks off with Intro – four and a half minutes of slowly building noise that sounds somewhere between eerie and soothing – before suddenly jerking into life with Hello Hanging Rope. At nearly eleven minutes it’s easily the longest track, and it provides a good precis of the good and bad points of the record as a whole. After a jarring start which sounds as though you’ve joined the track partway through, the rhythm section takes over. Drums underpin a fat sounding bass, which is fed through a synthy-sounding fuzz pedal, and together they pulse through a gradually evolving series of trance-inducing krautrock rhythms. The guitars are in full-on freak-out mode the whole way through, swirling and screeching away and never stopping to play anything so mundane as a riff.
Drums underpin a fat sounding bass, which is fed through a synthy-sounding fuzz pedal, and together they pulse through a gradually evolving series of trance-inducing krautrock rhythms…
The same could be said of the guitars across much of the album and, while the format lets you drift away with your thoughts, it doesn’t exactly demand your full attention either. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the record starts to sound samey, some of the tracks don’t exactly jump out at you. Don’t get me wrong, Ascend! an enjoyable listen but, for me, if you’re going to properly freak-out you need to freak-in a bit first. I appreciate that sentence doesn’t actually make sense, but I mean that a full-on guitar freak-out just feels more right and more impactful if it’s preceded by something a bit more structured which proceeds naturally to said freak-out. It’s like pudding – it might sound fun to only ever eat dessert, but you’ll appreciate it more if you eat your greens first.
For me, the best tracks are those which are a bit more structured and where the guitar comes close to playing, for want of a better term, an actual tune. The Blood Donor Wants His Blood Back (which I hope is an homage to the classic Hancock’s Half Hour episode) is one of the tracks I enjoyed most. The guitar locks in with the rhythm section for a healthy chunk of time, before embarking on some epic wah histrionics. I really enjoyed the closing track Jam For The Sun as well. The first half is dominated by a totally absorbing, hypnotic groove dominated by what sounds like a church organ, before morphing into an equally satisfying outro that climaxes with the reappearance of the church organ.
Any review is to some degree subjective, but here I would definitely stress that this is purely my opinion. I liked, but didn’t love, Ascend! but I’m sure that if properly tripped-out psych is your bag you’re going to be all over it.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc