I’ll go ahead and say that San Diego is easily one of my favorite cities in the United States, and I’ve always been enamored with the music scene that emanates from there, going back to the early ‘90s. No less than four of my favorite bands hail from San Diego, Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes and Earthless. While being known for a vibrant punk rock scene, the city also boasts an exciting heavy psychedelic scene, led by the aforementioned Earthless, but Nebula Drag are poised to join them as front-runners for the city’s burgeoning heavy psych underground.
Nebula Drag are a band that had been on my radar for some time before I finally dove headfirst into this heavy, fuzzed-out, psychedelic power trio. For whatever reason, despite a combination of online praise, and the band being on a label, Desert Records, that’s based in my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, it took me a minute to get into these guys. I eventually wound up snatching up the band’s first two releases via their Bandcamp page and became an instant fan.
While not necessarily breaking any new ground sonically, Nebula Drag’s sound is still uniquely their own, starting with guitarist/vocalist Corey Quintana’s otherworldly guitar tone, which is all at once fuzzed-out, massively crunchy and heavy enough to cave in planets. Quintana is capably backed by a stellar rhythm section in bassist Garrett Gallagher and drummer Stephen Varns who are both so heavy themselves and locked into their own massive groove, that the result is a massive wall of sound.
Seeing the announcement early for Western Death’s release, which was recorded over a year ago at Rarefied Recording Studio in San Diego, but due to worldwide pressing plant issues, its only now seeing a late 2023 release, I enthusiastically raised my hand and asked for the opportunity to review it. The album starts amidst a mass of swirling, cosmic guitar noise that signals the opening sounds of Crosses, the band’s first single, from Western Death which was initially released way back in August of 2022, with the video premiering right here on The Sleeping Shaman.
a clinic in heavy, crunchy, psychedelic riff-rock…
The track serves as a stellar opener, as it immediately represents everything that rules about Nebula Drag, namely Quintana’s fuzzed-out riffs, crunchy-as-shit guitar tone, and spaced-out, echo-y vocals that run parallel with the asteroid heavy, rumbling groove of the rhythm section. However, we’re just getting started as Sleazy Tapestry (great song title) is a fuzzy, bouncy, rock and roll banger that features a crispness to the riffing conjuring up sonic comparisons to mid-to-late ‘90s Corrosion of Conformity as well as some spacey, yet soaring vocals from Quintana. Next up is Failure, which is a massive, cosmic, chugger that too features impeccable riffing and some truly portal-opening, psychedelic lead guitar histrionics, which, of course, are tethered to this plane of reality by Gallagher and Varns mountain-moving rumble.
Kneecap is an enormous, mid-tempo, riff-monster that’s sequenced perfectly, and again features some more of weird, yet melodically catchy vocals and an absolutely swinging, behind the beat, rhythmic pummel. Side By Side is a thick, dense, wall of fuzz and groove that’s simultaneously impossibly heavy, while also being impossibly catchy, whereas the penultimate Tell No One proffers a crawling, descending riff and groove that’s complimented by cosmic shredding, whilst being deftly anchored by the fuzzed-up, rumbling bass line. Western Death closes with the title track, which was originally released as the second single. Vocally, it’s the most melodic offering on the album, while featuring a borderline Floydian cadence, that’s surrounded by the now-familiar crispy riffing, and massive low end.
I really wanted to put Western Death into my year end top ten list, as yes, it’s that good. The album truly kicks Nebula Drag’s sound up into the stratosphere as the band have honed their approach and songwriting to next level proportions. I cannot overstate enough how killer Quintana’s riffing and guitar tone is. It’s as crunchy, catchy, and gigantic as any other guitarist in this genre while being totally unique to himself, and that rhythm section is just a blueprint in low-end rumble.
I truly had some guilt leaving Western Death off my list as I’m convinced had it been released a month earlier and I had more time to sit with this monster, it surely would have made it. Nonetheless, it’s a clinic in heavy, crunchy, psychedelic riff-rock, and it seems I’ve got yet another band from San Diego to obsess over. Definitely one of the best releases of the year, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Scribed by: Martin Williams