Backwoods Payback! The name conjures images of some kind of Deliverance style, hillbilly redneck revenge killing…all plaid shirts, mountains of empty beer cans, fulsome beards and hefty bellies with shotguns across their laps!!! In truth…well, musically this doesn’t sound that far from the truth to be honest. This is an album of fat, ballsy southern tinged stoner styled rock, but to dismiss it as such would kind of do this album something of a disservice.
Opening with “You Know How This Works”, a jaunty, bouncing little riff soon gives way to some dense, Orange Goblin-esque stoner boogie topped off with the impassioned, clean yet edgy vocals of Mike Cummings. “Flight Pony” is up next and displays BP’s knack for writing a catchy riff with Cumming’s counterpoint vocals hitting the listener with a keen melodic edge that is disarmingly memorable. The semi psychedelic, Beatles infused breakdown in the middle of the song also shows that these guys are far from being a stonerized one trick pony.
“Knock Wood” also adds more diversity to the Payback arsenal. A heavy yet sombre piece this straddles a fine line between some of Soundgarden’s epic moments and Life Of Agony’s more subdued efforts. Cumming’s vocals throughout the album do echo some of Keith Caputo’s tortured melodic style with Benny Grotto’s sparse production allowing the vocals full weight to divulge their inner demons. Things take a small dip on “Mr Snowflake”, a fine tune but it’s leanings towards doom don’t hit the same heights as the opening trio of tunes. That said, the riffs are fat and the vocals remain a strong suit in the BP deck of cards.
The bar raises notch for “Lord Chesterfield” which packs a lot of bang for your buck in its 4 plus minutes veering from a tension building verse into a full on, powerhouse rock out on the choruses with yet another naggingly memorable melody riding on top. Five tracks in and we possibly have the album winner right here!!! After such a strong tune the BP guys and gal drop the ball slightly on “Parting Words”. It’s efforts at becoming an epic doom infused behemoth fall slightly short as the listener is left with an all too real sense of familiarity as a series of generic riffs get lost in a musical black hole that Cumming’s voice isn’t quite able to pull them out of.
Redemption is on hand, however, with “Poncho”. A deceptive little tune that rides on a harmonically twisted riff and Cumming’s restrained yet catchy vocal. It may appear strange to mention the Beatles twice in a review of this nature but there is something that can’t quite be pinpointed here that owes a debt to that band’s later period. Maybe if they had grown up in the backwoods of the States, drinking beer and listening to Blue Cheer instead of Liverpool, listening to skiffle, this may be what they would have sounded like.
As quickly as the band give with one hand they take away with the other. “Velcro” is an attempt at a cross between doom metal and Pink Floyd that doesn’t quite work. Musically this just feels lazy and unfocussed playing out for much of its nearly 6 minutes on two chords. The vocals do offer some respite as Cummings brings things right down to a hazy breathiness that does give some life to the song but overall it would appear that the band don’t perform at their best on the slower, darker numbers. Fortunately “Timegrinder” is a grinding metal monster of a tune that hits hard from the off with some gut bursting vocals that stray into Eyehategod territory. It’s a curve ball for sure but not unwelcome. When BP do pull things down into a crawling mire it shows they can do doom effectively and with real power.
One track left to go and once again Backwoods Payback pull out all their tricks as the song lurches from pounding southern fried doom to all out foot down metal to epic grunge and back to rolling southern grime. It’s a brave effort but again, doesn’t quite hit the mark…not terrible but certainly not up to some of the higher standards shown elsewhere. I’m also left with a sense that the recording of this track may have been as hurried as its inception as the vocals don’t seem to show the same level of care as previous songs and one of the guitars does sound a pubic hair out of tune which jars somewhat.
That Backwoods Payback fit right in to the Small Stone roster is without doubt, their brand of far reaching doomed out southern stoner sits at the heart of much of the label’s previous work. Is it a flagship album for the label, I don’t think so. It’s certainly a fine album and worthy of many repeated listens but when placed toe to toe with the likes of Roadsaw and the new Gideon Smith and the Dixie Damned effort it may find itself falling behind. I’m sure the Small Stone faithful will embrace this album…and the next one will deal the killer blow as the band definitely have it in their back pockets!!!
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall