Review: Red Mesa ‘Partial Distortions’

I’m going to begin this review of Red Mesa’s fourth full-length, Partial Distortions, by providing some background about my hometown, Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the trio is based, as I feel, it’s pertinent in the overall scheme of the bands ascension.

For one thing, it’s pretty common to have a chip on your shoulder being from here, and any mention of the city in any context, on a national level, usually results in a huge sense of pride.

Red Mesa 'Partial Distortions' Artwork
Red Mesa ‘Partial Distortions’ Artwork

There really is nowhere else like it, between the culture, geography and environment, and suddenly with a show like Breaking Bad, it can feel like we’re finally ‘on the map’ so to speak. In addition, we’ve always had a potent local scene teaming with great musicians from all genres of music.

It’s always felt very insular and regional as a lot of old-school Albuquerque bands didn’t tour much, the exceptions being, I’d argue, the two most successful to come out of here, ‘90s garage punk legends Scared Of Chaka, and I-was-never-a-fan, indie rock darlings The Shins. Admittedly, I stepped back from going to shows as I quit drinking and using which coincided with the birth of my children, and for a good ten years, I only went to a handful of shows.

It’s during this time frame that Red Mesa caught my attention as their drummer, Roman Barham, is a tireless promoter of all that is heavy bringing many bands to the city, while somehow finding time to play in multiple bands, but since Red Mesa is his main vehicle, I finally jumped on board, feeling really late to the party in my own city, as I grabbed their last album The Path To The Deathless .

Musically, Red Mesa has always struck me as a pretty original sounding band standing out a bit in comparison to the hordes of ‘we’ve-heard-it-all-before’ stoner rock bands that sound like some combo of Sabbath, Sleep and Kyuss. There’s a cathartic sense of build and dynamism at play, that reminds me more of Neurosis-meets-Crowbar than what I would consider ‘desert rock”.

This is a vivid, slow build, psychedelic sonic voyage, that will have the listener Googling images of the New Mexico desert for a visual…

Partial Distortions opens with Óðr which takes the listener on an eight-minute, heavy riff, roller coaster. The opening blast is a riffy attack, featuring a more ‘rock’ shouted approach vocally, which I dig, before the track rather abruptly descends into a literal, crawling, sludge metal hell, wherein Red Mesa ride it out with some somber lead work, that takes us to the end drenched in feedback.

We then flow directly into The Assertion featuring I’m sure the one and only stoner/sludge call back to Barry Manilow’s I Write The Songs anchored by a crushing low end and some tripped out guitar histrionics. As all three members of contribute vocally, I’m usually guessing who’s taking the lead, as here, the heaviness is complimented initially by some clean vocals, before unleashing the now-familiar guttural attack.

The first single, Dying In The Cold Sun, balances an early, somber, melancholic build, with a crushing, riffy, Neurosis-style purging. 12 Volt Shaman is undoubtedly about local tattooer, and promoter Dan ‘Dano’ Sanchez, who co-founded the Monolith On The Mesa festival in Taos, New Mexico with Barham, and who sadly passed away a few years back during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The track is a heartfelt, heavy, tribute to their fallen friend that features a killer, psychedelic, tripped-out breakdown, wherein we can imagine Dano cruising the cosmos with this breakdown as his soundtrack.

The penultimate instrumental Desert March is where Red Mesa get their desert rock on. This is a vivid, slow build, psychedelic sonic voyage, that will have the listener Googling images of the New Mexico desert for a visual, while closer Witching Hour is a weird, slippery, fuzzy, riff vortex, that will leave the listener feeling as though their traveling down a deserted southwest highway, as a palatable sense of malevolence hangs in the dry, hot air.

All in all, Partial Distortions is a cool, familiar, yet unique take on the genre, featuring plenty of sludge elements, as this album should please both fans of stoner/desert rock as well those who like the emotional release of crushing release of sludge metal. Special props must be given to vocalist/guitarist Brad Frye as he has worked tirelessly with his label Desert Records to promote an eclectic mix of underground heavy as well as proudly promoting Albuquerque, and our little high desert scene we have here. Highly recommended.

Label: Desert Records | Majestic Mountain Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

Scribed by: Martin Williams