As someone who’s spent roughly forty of his fifty-one (I can’t fucking believe I just wrote that) years in the desert southwest United States, specifically next door to Texas, (New Mexico) I can say without hesitation that there’s not much culturally from ‘The Lone Star State’ I care for. God, guns, and beef are three things I’m generally not interested in any way.
I will say, one thing Texas, and central Texas in particular, has always had going for it is rock & roll. Bands from Texas have usually featured a unique groove, a unique tone, and their own sense of weirdness and psychedelia unique to Texas. The Butthole Surfers and Roky Erickson/13th Floor Elevators instantly come to mind in the weird department. As far as heavy-ass, contemporary underground rock & roll Wo Fat are next level, and Mothership and Duel have both made quite an impact themselves.
Perhaps the next band to make a name for themselves in this state’s rich history of underground rock & roll is Peth, a ‘proto-metal’ band from Lago Vista, Texas (just outside of Austin) who came together during the 2020 pandemic and have officially dropped their debut, Merchant of Death, on an unsuspecting public.
And proto-metal this most certainly is, sounding like it was shot through a portal from 1971, but with a touch of early ‘80s thrash. I’m instantly struck by Peth’s guitar tone (try as I might, I was unable to track down the band members’ names, and who’s on what instrument). Judging from Bandcamp photos, Peth is a twin guitar attack, and both guitarists have their early ‘70s tones down to a T. They’re warm, fuzzy, crunchy-as-fuck, and obviously retro, as evidenced by ripping, bobbing-riff, opener Dwarvanaught, a full-on, Vol. 4 style bash-fest if I’ve ever heard one. The rhythm section makes their presence felt too, as this drummer most definitely has his Texas, behind-the-beat-swing action intact. There’re also some hints of early-thrash urgency at the end of Dwarvanaught too, Peth’s twin guitar attack giving me mild Kill ‘Em All flashbacks.
The Texas weirdness I mentioned earlier shows up on Amok as hints of aspooky, walking, garage rock track fall by the wayside as waves of Vol. 4/Sabotage-style riffage pour through the speakers along with a pretty aggressive bassline. Weird, and crushing, Amok is an early highlight. Abolish The Overseer (indeed) is a clinic in proto-metal, occult weirdness, and aggressive riff-mania. It must be noted that either Peth have two singers going on, again, I can’t find band-member info or their one singer has a crazy range. The vocals on Merchant Of Death, and Amok in particular, alternate between a Bobby Liebling, occult-esque howl, and a weird, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins talk/mumble.
proto-metal this most certainly is, sounding like it was shot through a portal from 1971…
Faces are melted instantly by the ferocious, grimy, intro-riffage of Let Evil In, before giving way to the weird, talking vocals again, before the colossal main riff swings back around, taking the listener out with a barrage of fuzzy riffs, leads, and bring-the-house-down rhythm cacophony. Stoned Wizard is a burning, riffing, bash-fest of a song, while the title track, Merchant Of Death is a blatant, homage to Black Sabbath’s The Wizard, Peth doing their damndest to replicate Lord Iommi’s early sound (impossible, even with two of these guys, but they definitely get an ‘A’ for effort).
The album closes with Karmic Debt, which hints at a trippy, doomy closer, before accelerating into an epic, riff-monster, as the weird talking/mumbling vocals re-appear as Peth rage their way to into a laid-back, Texas jam to close the song and album out.
Merchant of Death is a killer, heavy, crunchy, weird record made all the more commendable as this is Peth’s debut. These guys definitely did not fuck around in crafting these sounds, as the songs are well-written, and well-performed, featuring many layers. And again, tonally, this thing is a monster, right up my alley sonically. It seems ‘proto-metal’ has practically become a sub-genre of stoner and doom in itself, as many bands these days are trying to replicate not only Sabbath, but Dust, Captain Beyond, and any and all of The Brown Acid–style sounds of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s as much as bands were trying to replicate Kyuss and Fu Manchu in the ‘90s.
Well, Merchant of Death completely succeeds at producing the sound and feel of that era, coupled with a generous dose of Texas weirdness, ZZ Top-style crunch, and Texas swing. Recommended. And, guys, how about some names on Bandcamp at a minimum, so proper praise can be given.
Scribed by: Martin Williams