Hailing from Albuqerque, New Mexico, Red Mesa released their third album, The Path To The Deathless kast week on 12th June through Desert Records. Both the band and the label were founded by Brad Frye who leads with a collaborative spirit, as shown with label releases such as the Women Of Doom project, or with the guest musicians present on The Path To The Deathless including most notably Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich and Dave Sherman.
The album is described as a concept record about death and beyond. Life, death, and the ‘deathless’ – the next world and our living connection to it through the spirit and the soul. Fittingly, the music has a brooding and reflective mood, but stylistically and sonically, this is a blend of desert, stoner, and psychedelic rock with a good few unexpected twists and turns. It’s the sound of Kyuss’ dusty desert dusks and Monster Magnet’s psychedelic power trips. It’s heavy in a familiar sense, but the morbid theme is present throughout. However, it’s a meditative and spiritual take rather than anything too exaggeratedly dark. Although, judging from the first track Ghost Bell, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Haunting strings, calling crows, sombre and weighty guitars, ominous tolling bells, and the surprise of guttural vocals. An eerie, dark, and mysterious call to the other side. If the idea of harsh vocals leaves you feeling cold, they’re buried in the mix and secondary to the lead vocal so that they act more like the sound of a distant spectre – the voice of Death. It’s a good example of one of the main strengths of the album. While on the surface the immediate sense is straight ahead desert/stoner with psychedelic sojourns, there’s a lot of more subtle elements at play throughout.
While Ghost Bell is an introduction to set the tone, title track The Path To The Deathless gets to the heart of what Red Mesa are all about. A trippy intro then a wall of bass and droning fuzz. Massive riffs, steadily pounding drums, and smooth but raw smoke-singed and whiskey-tinged vocals. The smoked out canyon-filling sound of desert rock, played flawlessly and produced expertly. While a lot of bands define their sound by pushing forward a unique tone or simply overwhelming the mix with the guitars, Red Mesa opt for balance. The guitars have the mandatory weight and presence, but there’s plenty of room for everything else.
Three minutes in and things take a sharp atmospheric turn with ethereal synth, moody bass, and a gentle jet effect on the guitars. The track floats as the delayed vocals scrape and rasp. A soulful guitar lead emerges, wavers, and fades, before one final death rattle leads the song out into darkness. This almost abrupt turn seems to be a key part of the band’s song writing style, as tracks often switch from head down riffing to heads up psychedelia.
A trippy intro then a wall of bass and droning fuzz. Massive riffs, steadily pounding drums, and smooth but raw smoke-singed and whiskey-tinged vocals…
The title track reminded me of the mighty Earthride, with Brad Frye’s vocals sounding like a smoother less sneering version of Dave Sherman’s unmistakeable scorched rasp. Seems that Earthride are an influence, as next track Desert Moon sees Sherman showing up to take on all vocal duties. The song is more fluid and rolling than most Earthride numbers and takes full advantage of the momentum to stretch every syllable to breaking point. A heavy stupor of crunching riffage that’s the perfect vessel for a tale of bluesy skywatching and stargazing.
An early come down is ushered in with the acoustic guitars and distant atmospherics of Death I Am. A contemplation of mortality with vivid imagery of carrion-feeding scavengers in the New Mexico desert. Frye’s vocal is emotive and vulnerable and the track showcases the rich quality of his voice above a low key interplay between scene-setting guitars.
Disharmonious Unlife features the commanding but avuncular voice and earthy, soulful guitar playing of Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich. The number of bands featuring the doom progenitor is just staggering: collaborations, contributions, pioneering and influential ground breaking bands, and all sorts of other projects. He always brings his formidable presence to anything he’s involved in, and the result for Red Mesa sounds like a completely different band. The binding of monolithic stoner tones and Wino’s raw singing and pure unfiltered lead work tap in to something that feels like an ode to sacred spirits. His presence here is slightly off-kilter and pained, bringing clean melody and heart.
Multiple guest spots on an album can often signal superfluous cameos or transparent name-dropping, but Red Mesa have been careful to integrate their music with guest contributors, making sure that the vibe fits and the writing matches. In the case of Dave Sherman and Wino, the band give them both space not just to perform but to make the tracks their own.
Penultimate track Revelation is a heavy grooving blast that sounds like pure Kyuss, an enjoyable run around that clears the way for the epic closer Swallowed By The Sea. A mournful dirge of wailing violin and guitars sets out atop the waves as a slightly more aggressive edge cuts through the choppy waters before a prolonged drift in deeper but calmer seas. The clean vocals are utterly striking to the point that I can’t tell for sure if this is still Frye, then later they burst forth with hardcore bellowing.
One last surprise on an album that realises the distinct languid heaviness of desert rock and the transcendental expanse of psychedelia while also exploring new territories, in this world and the next.
Scribed by: Josuph Price