Did you know that Humulus is the genus to which the hop plant, everyone’s favourite beer flavouring and preservative agent, belongs? (Botanic taxonomy fun fact: it’s also part of the Cannabaceae family which is home to the cannabis plant). Given that previous Humulus album covers have featured a Walrus holding a beer, an elephant holding a beer, that the artwork for The Deep features an octopus holding a bottle containing water, hops and barley, and that Humulus brew their own ‘Stoner IPA’, I think it’s safe to say that the band are fond of a brew or two.
Now, given the strong beer association noted above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Humulus deal in Motorhead-inspired biker metal or boozy boogie rock. You wouldn’t be a million miles off, but instead they’ve built an impressive back-catalogue of expansive, jam-based stoner rock. Hailing from Bergamo in northern Italy, the trio have been around since 2009 and The Deep is their fourth album. I’m entirely unfamiliar with the hierarchy of record labels, but The Deep is the first to be released on Kozmik Artifactz (their previous was part-released by Kozmik imprint Oak Island Records) and I gather from reading around, this suggests Humulus are heading up in the world. Whether that’s actually the case or I’ve just misinterpreted something is a moot point – The Deep is a really good album and Humulus bring enough individuality and flair to avoid it becoming another generic stoner rock record.
Drummer Massimiliano Boventi says that Humulus were aiming to write shorter songs for their new album and they succeeded. To a point. Opener Devil’s Peaks (We Eventually Eluded Death) clocks in at a relatively concise five minutes 24 seconds. While the sound will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s had even a passing interest in European stoner rock at some point in the last twenty years (thick, fuzzy production; laid-back ascending-descending riff; vocals that are reminiscent of someone I can’t quite put my finger on) it’s a good enough track to avoid sounding tired or generic. The central riff, although basic, is really effective – catchy and guaranteed to get you moving. Second track Gone Again is even shorter and more straight-forward: a short sharp blast of up-tempo stoner rock with a sweet chorus and gritty, sincere vocals. Again, nothing wildly new, but enjoyable and memorable nevertheless.
After this point, Humulus seem to forget their plans for brevity and things become more expansive. Hajra is an eight-minute exercise in the tried and trusty quiet-verse-loud-chorus dynamic. I’d say that Humulus push this one to the very threshold of overstaying its welcome, but again the tune is strong enough to make even this crusty old formula sounds fresh and interesting.
[Into The Heart Of The Volcano Sun is] a genuinely epic-sounding track and more than justifies its weighty running time…
If you’re counting in terms of the number of tracks, rather than overall duration, the second half of the album begins with Into The Heart Of The Volcano Sun. This is where Humulus really begin to stretch out and is the first of two tracks pushing the fifteen-minute mark. It’s a real slow-burner, gradually building up from a mellow, instrumental start that morphs into a more traditional verse-chorus section, which itself forms a bridge to a monstrously heavy instrumental outro. It’s a genuinely epic-sounding track and more than justifies its weighty running time.
After Lunar Queen, a short, acoustic track with a bassline that’s reminiscent of Planet Caravan, Humulus round things off with another lengthy track, Sanctuary III – The Deep. Reversing the order of things, this time we get the heavy bit first up which winds down into a lengthy, laid-back outro. I couldn’t decide on whether this quite worked for me. On the one hand, it’s as well-played as the rest of the album, and Humulus display a real knack for a good melody and generating an atmosphere. On the other hand, it just feels a bit… odd. Just when you think the instrumental outro is drawing to a close, the vocals reappear, but for such a brief period that it feels a bit unsatisfying.
Still, that’s a minor quibble given how good The Deep is as a whole. While Humulus don’t take stoner rock into any startling new directions, they demonstrate a mastery of groove, melody, and heaviness that make for a thoroughly enjoyable listen.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc