I’m not sure whether it’s just me, but Small Stone Records seem to have been much quieter of late than they used to be. Five or six years ago, it was always my first stop on the search for something new and rocking, but for some reason they’ve fallen off my radar. I was therefore pretty excited when I saw this come up for review as proof that Detroit’s finest label is still alive and kicking.
Anyway, although they’re a new name to me, Black Elephant have been around for a decade and Seven Swords is their second album for the label. They’re a four-piece from Savona, Italy and the blurb describes their new album as a ‘collection of classic-minded heavy groovers, picking the best the ’70s, ’90s, and ’10s had to offer in riffery and melding spacey blowouts with desert-hued hooks’. I wouldn’t argue with that, as the band’s sound would sit comfortably alongside early Nebula, or parts of Monster Magnet’s discography with a similar late-60s garage-influenced take on stoner rock. The vocals are, I’m assuming, in Italian and are pretty sparse – although there are only two fully instrumental tracks on the album, there is a strong instrumental vibe as the vocals don’t pop up that regularly.
One thing that really jumped out at me when listening to Seven Swords is that the production is properly nice. The bass is nice and present, but the guitar tone is glorious and dripping with snarling analogue fuzz. Black Elephant are clearly serious musicians, so you might expect the album to be a sure-fire classic, but for me it falls a little flat as the tunes don’t really do justice to everything else on the record.
When Black Elephant do write a song that’s worthy of their musical chops the results are great. Opener Berta’s Flame is a solid tune. The track doesn’t really follow your usual song structure and instead moves through several distinct quiet/loud sections, but still, it builds nicely to a heavy conclusion with some tasty guitar soloing. Yayoi Kusama is even better, a pacey number oozing with fuzzy garage cool. A busy bassline drives proceedings while the guitars dip in and out. It’s a really cool track with plenty of energy and groove and even has a decent chorus.
the guitar tone is glorious and dripping with snarling analogue fuzz…
Elsewhere though I found the album to a mix of the forgettable and the slightly puzzling. Second track Last March Of Yokozunais a good example of the slightly puzzling: it features some nice guitar playing, but feels like a directionless three minute atmospheric break in a short album that really doesn’t need one. Fifth song Red Sun And Blues Sun is the other instrumental and it has lots of promise which sadly isn’t realised. I’m all for brevity, but I felt that this track just sounded underdeveloped and too short.
The rest of the album is fine really, nothing terrible but equally nothing that particularly grabs or holds your attention. The lengthy album closer Govinda has all the right intentions and it’s clear that the band were aiming for an epic, eastern-tinged closer but it doesn’t quite click. Do you remember Monster Magnet’s 2013 album Last Patrol? It really made me think of that. The sound, the playing, the ideas are all good, it just isn’t a very interesting song. The same could be said for much of the rest of the album.
I don’t mean to be too down on Seven Swords; it’s a solid album. I think my main issue is that although it’s short (thirty four minutes) each time I’ve listened to it I’ve found my attention wandering to something else, which surely can’t be a good sign.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc