Portland, Oregon purveyors of the finest of West Coast stoner/doom, Robots Of The Ancient World, or known by their acronym ROTAW, have returned, primed to unleash their much-anticipated follow-up to 2019’s full-length debut Cosmic Riders upon an unsuspecting music listening public in 2021. Mystic Goddess is a monster of a record, featuring all of the hallmarks one looks for in this genre of heavy music.
Evidently when deciding on a producer and a studio, the band opted to take the short, 2-hour (depending on traffic) drive north to Seattle to record with one of the original fuzz-masters, The Grunge Overlord himself: Jack Endino at his studio Soundhouse Studios with the aid of longtime apprentice/running mate Mikel Perkins.
Endino, responsible for so many grunge classics from Mudhoney to Nirvana, as well as contemporaries like High On Fire, was clearly the right man for the job. The record sounds HUGE. Additionally, Endino & Perkins didn’t go nuts with the Big Muffs & Fuzz boxes. The records sound is expansive, and spacious, not limited to any type of stereotype that might be associated with recording at Soundhouse Studios (which should be obvious with HOF’s sound on the aforementioned, Endino-produced Death Is This Communion)
Mystic Goddess opens with the title track, a slow burn, build-up as the band begin introducing themselves. Some feedback, followed by some spacey guitar, then the rest of the band kick in as ROTAW begin their ascent, until the 2:10 mark, lift off commences with Trevor Berecek’s low-end rumbling bass riff begins the body of the song. Vocalist Caleb Weidenbach quickly makes his presence felt with a pair of pipes not always heard in stoner rock. My man can sing, he’s a crooner for sure.
Excellent riffage and back-and-forth lead work from guitarists Nico Schmutz & Justin Laubsche give this an incredibly big sound. I can think of all sorts of comparisons, some definite desert vibes, Kyuss for sure, but more so I think of Sweden’s Lowrider and their excellent Refractions album. If not in approach than in tonality. Wasteland completely switches gears, a bluesy, swinging, riff-monster. Caleb Weidenbach certainly does his best Glen Danzig impression, sounding like a ‘Stoner Rock Evil Elvis’. No shit. I cannot be the only listener who hears this. I mean that comparison in the highest of compliments, his voice and the overall feel of the song reminding me of something off Lucifuge if not heavier. This song has a real groove and is certainly a highlight of the record.
This record touches on all aspects of stoner/doom/riff rock, blending them all together, in eyebrow-raising fashion…
Agua Cailente (Hot Water in Spanish, although ‘agua’ is also a large toad in Central America) was the first single, and here the band switch gears, again letting loose with some monster riffage. Although still spacey, there’s some definite crunch here. I can see why this was the leadoff-single, it captures the mood of the album perfectly.
Out Of The Gallows has a nice dunga-dunga-dunga-dunga rhythm groove reminiscent of Carnival Bizarre era Cathedral. This is sequenced well as a mid-album, ass-kicker. Unholy Trinity slows us down again, ROTAW opting for the riff-bludgeon approach before Weidenbach shows us why those Danzig comparisons are so spot on. Again, I must make note of the fact that there are very few vocalists in this genre having THESE kinds of pipes. So often, stoner rock vocalists can get buried in the riffage, or they distort the vocals so much, it can seem like an afterthought. Not here, not even close. Weidenbach is front and center, and more than capable of being heard over the band.
MK Ultra Violence (MK Ultra was a program designed by the CIA in the 50’s involving LSD, sensory deprivation, mind control and interrogation) opens the attack with an up-tempo, almost punk beat from drummer Harry Silvers before the band explode simultaneously, Weidenbach wondering if we’ve found salvation. Not yet, but this record has at least pointed me in the right direction.
Lucifyre is the clear centrepiece of the record. a 10-minute-45-second sprawling, crawling cosmic blues doom monster. Weidenbach really stretching, really crooning. I mean, he’s spot on for Danzig. The song has a mammoth build up. Excellent riffage and lead work from Schmutz & Laubscher, to say nothing of Berecek’s bass tone and stylings. ROTAW ride that groove to Mars and back until the feedback is all that remains in the afterburn, well, that and a fuzzed-out, distorted David Icke (famed English conspiracy/lizard people theorist) Fucking. Epic. Song. I foresee that this may go down with other long-form stoner/doom epics, as a classic example of stretching the genre to its fullest. The difference though, like on the rest of the album are the vocals of Weidenbach, who leads the record to a close with the acoustic, introspective, Ordo Ab Khao.
I believe ROTAW and Small Stone Records have an album-of-the-year candidate with Mystic Goddess, and perhaps, as time will tell, an-all time classic of the genre. This record touches on all aspects of stoner/doom/riff rock, blending them all together, in eyebrow-raising fashion. Desert rock, cosmic swirling psyche, Swedish-style stoner rock, as well as some grungy riffage. Jack Endino (who fell ill from COVID-19 during the sessions, was forced to hand the reigns to Mikel Perkins, who was more than capable of stepping in) seems to have added another heavy riff-rock potential classic to his already impressive resume. Highly Recommended.
Scribed by: Martin Williams