The influence of Sleep’s Holy Mountain still weighs heavy on the ‘Stoner/Doom’ community, even after nearly twenty years. Their weed-shrouded groove seem to be the ‘go-to’ mode for a good portion of bands on the scene, and Etherial Riffian are NO exception. Even their name screams ‘Sleep lyric!!’. However, unlike most straight-up knock-offs, the Riffians bring a few other things to the table, enough to separate them from the herd – to some extent. Where most rely purely on that tried-and-tested groove-laden doom approach and droning, bonged-out vocal line, THESE boys bring a certain subtlety and variation to their sound, thank the lord, although, sadly, not as much as they COULD…
Basically a glorified intro-piece, ‘Whispering of the Ancients (The Awakening)’, hoves into view boasting a taut, subdued guitar-line that brings the more progressive moments of latter-day Neurosis to mind, embroidering this with the pattering sound of a tabla and a general windswept ‘n’ interesting ambience that builds into what sounds for all the world like the intro to Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’ before our journey proper begins.
Of course, the first REAL track, ‘Beyond (The Search)’, sounds just like a gussied-up Sleep with additional tabla and atmospheric ‘sighing’ backing vox, but, well, we were expecting that. Vocally, yep, it’s that perma-stoned drawling half-buried vocal Cisneros drone for the most part, with occasional Mastodon-style harsh snarling that helps leaven the atmos somewhat, courtesy of frontman Stonezilla. A lead guitar part snakes it’s way throughout the first half of the track, presumably courtesy of guitarist Southman, and resumes and resolves into a full-on ball-busting solo during the hindpart, in which the groove is picked up into a more swingin’ version of that Sleep rhythm and things kinda heavy up a little. It’s all nicely done, thus far, but pretty much as expected.
‘Yax Imix Che (The Path)’ begins with a snakey, meandering bassline, underplayed drums and a gorgeous-sounding flute motif, courtesy of one ‘Olga’, soon to be joined by subtle volume-swells and low-key guitar noodling. Gradually, ambient sounds begin to be heard, right on the edge of hearing and that subtle guitar adds minor-key descending notes that begin to have a decidedly sinister edge…particularly when combined with the ‘edge-of-hearing’ flutters and scrapes and a half-buried wailing female vocal, again courtesy of ‘Olga’. That sinister guitar motif begins to resemble a watery version of the spidery intro to Holocaust’s ‘The Small Hours’ and then BOOM, it’s hypno-stun Sleep riff time again, and we’re back into THAT groove and THAT vocal again. Even a very metallic solo cannot help the fact that we’re mining material that’s been so heavily mined before that it really is in serious danger of collapse. Dammit, they showed such promise! An undistorted shuffle version of that same riff and groove takes us out before the next track punches in.
‘The Voice Of Reason (The Enlightenment)’ kicks off with a a waaaaay more uptempo rocker of a riff – an Orange Goblin-style Sabs groover – that all-too-quickly gives way to droning Cisneros worship that all but drowns out the chunky riff goodness beneath it. Thankfully, as we shift into a Metallica-esque one-two pummel, there are no vocals to take away from its syncopated punch, at least for a few bars and then it’s back down to business very much as usual until solo time, most of which takes place over a return to the OG riffage and some ably tumblin’ drums. BAM, next.
As it happens, next is last – ‘Light of Self (The Truth)’ comes in on a slow-mo drum riff and wah-wah guitar that quickly resolves into, you guessed it, more bloody Sleep worship. This pattern repeats itself for basically the entire nine minutes of the track.
YES there are some sterling solos in there, and the bass and drum interplay IS skilled and dexterous, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we’ve heard this a million times already, and I’m pretty damn sure we’ll KEEP bloody hearing it.
It is clear that Etherial Riffian can play VERY well indeed, and they clearly have great chemistry, but until they ditch the Sleep influence and move on, they’ll just be another stoner doom band in a rapidly increasing pile of sub-par Sleep tribute acts. Admittedly, they’ll be near the TOP of the pile, but, well, who wants to be a part of the pile at all?
Come on guys, you have the skills and the chops, is this REALLY what you want to do? I can hear and see so much more in the music – the artwork for ‘Shaman’s Visions’ is excellent, and not at all generic – how about you try to be yourselves a little more next time?
I won’t listen to ‘Shaman’s Visions’ ever again, I know that, but I AM more than willing to give Etherial Riffian another chance, provided they shape up and let it all hang out. Let that shaman guide you somewhere NEW.
Label: Self Released
Scribed by: Paul Robertson