Junior Bruce have seemingly flown under the radar for quite some time. Despite forming in the swamps of DeLand, Florida in 2007, their new opus, the hard hitting Pray For Death is only their third album and the first since 2016s well received Endless Descent. This is a band who have faced their share of bad luck and tragedy with founding member drummer Brett Tanner passing away following the release of their debut album in 2012, and guitarist Bryan Raymond suffering a motorcycle accident in 2015.
Following a line-up refresh in 2018, the band were back ready to record their new album for Sludgelord Records when the COVID-19 crisis threw everything into a crooked hat and found themselves scrambling to complete it by any means necessary. To say this album is a triumph of their belief, determination and endurance is an understatement.
Delivering a death metal flavoured take on stoner and sludge metal, Pray For Death blends furious beats, melodic guitar runs, scything riffs and rumbling low end grooves, The Sleeper Awakens literally barks out of the speakers to usher in the album.
Frantic drumming and death metal riffs colliding with a hardcore sway as vocalist Scott Angelacos gives a performance that would have his pharmacist rubbing their hands and moving the throat lozenges to the front of the counter. The song switches between the low chug of the verses building towards a tumbling chorus that spills over into faster parts, like the band have been straining and finally succumbed to letting the themselves give in to the music that wants to escape them.
Terror Mounts (Wretched Thing) throws a curveball and has an almost rockabilly bounce and swagger to it. Built around a simple progression before breaking into an Iron Maiden-esque gallop, an upbeat and catchy number. Coming back to Angelacos vocals, they feel like they’ve been influenced by Exhorder’s Kyle Thomas, in fact this album, at times, gave me the same feeling when I heard the Mourn The Southern Skies comeback album last year with its rasping thrash and stoner mixture.
the album sounds huge, abrasive and naturally chaotic…
7,000,000 Years (Ancient Astronaut) is more straight forward in its stoner groove. Huge, pummelling walls of sound have more of a rangy space to breath and nod along to, despite the grinding jagged edges of the sound. This is probably as close to a loose jam as the album gets and the hypnotic dynamics cut through riffs that would still inspire churning mosh pits. Lyrically anthemic to match the music, this is an early highlight in the album which seems to slow the overall pace.
The Basement is a slow, crawling dirge that grows to a bluesy stomp with as close to a sing a long chorus as Junior Bruce get. Here guitarists Chris Haden and Brett Walker dual solos and melodies in the breakdown throwing in more light and shade, before the track closes with a hardcore slamming break.
Seemingly having caught their breath, the band fire up for the brutal Anti-God and you think the album will round out with more of the same, then on one-nine-nine-nine things start to get a bit more loose and varied, bouncing with an almost surf rock feel and melodic harmonies, the band switch between heavy groove and gruff bluster.
The Mirror is a crazy kitchen sink type affair that’s built around an off kilter chorus and seemingly can’t decide if it wants to be Motörhead, thrash, hardcore or something else entirely. It seems totally chaotic and yet when it all comes together, it somehow seems to work in the same way that my old hardcore favourites Bloodlet managed to combine styles, and directions, in a way that shouldn’t work, yet made for a compelling listen.
Unspeakable Horror rounds out the album in a robust fashion that seems like business as usual, until the harmonic drop out and the other worldly effect laden vocals make this track stand out, again giving them a different edge to their sound and leaving this listener reaching for the repeat button.
Having had to record at High Five Studios with drummer Jeff McAlear handling the production duties, Junior Bruce were able to get Pray For Death mixed and mastered by none other than noise maestro Sandford Parker, an endorsement that doesn’t come lightly. As such the album sounds huge, abrasive and naturally chaotic which is an apt reflection for a band who have endured so much angst and chaos in their time together.
It’s not a faultless album, but at the same time it’s a bullish statement that probably doesn’t give a fuck about its imperfections. Pray for Death has hooks to draw you in, melodies to soften you up, throw you off balance and moments that will straight up smash you into submission.
The band have been doing this for some time now and have become very accomplished at what they do. It’s now time they got to showcase that properly.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden