Does London really need another stoner metal band to add to the seemingly never-ending roster of rifforama being pumped out of the capital? It’s a worthy question at this point in time with notable amounts of scene saturation, promoters losing money, crowd-power wavering and releases becoming overly repetitive to the point of frustration. However, amongst the barrage of Lekkie Wizz wannabes and Melvins impersonators minus the talent, come the occasional rays of light through the ceiling; bands who are able to take a sound we’re all comfortable and familiar with and explore it into new, uncharted realms. Elephant Tree, for me at least, could well prove to be one such band of brand new brilliance.
Formed by Sam Hart (drums, percussion) and Jack Townley (guitar, vocals) after moving south to wallow in the bottomless pools of gigs on offer in London, the Northern duo quickly recruited hyper-talented Trippy Wicked frontman Pete Holland to beef up the bass section and add his Chris Cornell-esque vox to the mix. Not wanting to limit themselves to the bog-standard power trio template, Elephant Tree is rounded out by Canadian sitar player Riley MacIntyre, who adds finesse and a sense of mystery to an otherwise brooding brand of sludge metal. Despite having played barely a handful of gigs and releasing their first EP Theia, Elephant Tree found they’d already done enough to catch the attentions of Magnetic Eye Records, based in New York City, who are now primed and ready to re-release this Eastern-influenced slab of filthy heaviness on multiple formats.
With MacIntyre’s delicate sitar interweaving each track coupled with Holland’s unmistakable, soaring vocal lines and song-writing influence clearly present in abundance, it would be easy to quickly assume that Theia would end up somewhere in between Sleep’s groovy cactus-bothering and OM’s ethereal enchantment. That assumption isn’t false per se, but at the same time the thing that surprised me most is that Theia is a downright HEAVY record. The gigantic riffs straddling the likes of The Sead and Attack Of The Altaica could be right at home on a Slomatics or Bongripper album at times. We’re talking a head-nodding, foot-stomping guitar attack here that would delight Slabdragger or Dopefight fans as much as followers of the bluesier side of the genre.
The danger of having something like a sitar player in a band is to let that become the core focus of everything you do, at which point you’ll inevitably end up with something as rambling and unorthodox as the likes of Master Musicians of Bukkake, Orphaned Land or Bong. Instead, Elephant Tree use Riley’s talents sparingly and intelligently, allowing him the solo opportunities of opener The Call and album interlude The Answer but then using his prowess as a compatible part of the rhythm section on the likes of Attack Of The Altaica and Vlaakith. This results in a sound that’s no death-by-oodling, but rather an experimental edge to an otherwise bone-jarring assault.
Attack Of The Altaica is probably Elephant Tree’s purest song created in their unique format and distinction. A complex blend of loose atmospherics that sounds like Ravi Shankar, Tweak Bird and Bongzilla sharing a flat in Shoreditch. Yep, it’s that cool. In Suffering is more direct; the riffs are bolder and coarser as Townley’s voice leaps from a delicate, soulful jam to a whiskey-throttling Dixie Dave Collins roar. There’s more than a nod to Weedeater and Church Of Misery on this badboy but also some barren landscapes that echo the desert sounds of Fatso Jetson or Yawning Man.
Vlaakith is probably the clearest structured song on the album and one that’s almost certainly had the greatest amount of Holland’s input into the writing. Longtime fans of Trippy Wicked will recognise the bluesy swagger, irresistible riffage and Soundgarden groove immediately here. By the time the gallion-swaying riffs at Vlaakith‘s bow come around, you’re staring right down the barrel at London’s favourite Cosmic Children of the Knight.
After the brooding, but puzzlingly short Lament, it’s over to The Sead to slam Theia into oblivions beyond which I thought they would be capable of so early into their career. Put OM, Bongripper and Throne into a space shuttle and blast them off into the stratosphere and you’ll have a decent enough formula to get back to this track’s pungent heaviosity.
Although perhaps at times a little too abrupt in its conclusions, Theia is one of the strongest debuts I’ve heard in a very long time. It would be wrong of me to say that with Holland’s voice and influence, Elephant Tree fundamentally do not sound like Trippy Wicked, but it would be equally wrong to say that they fail to explore so many more avenues along the way.
Fancy some sitar sludge? Let Elephant Tree take you back to the desert along a whole groovy new path.
Scribed by: Pete Green