New Jersey’s Ruby The Hatchet are a band that I’ve been hearing about for a minimum of five years now and found their way onto my never-ending, always-expanding ‘list’ of bands that I need to get around to checking out someday. So, seeing their new album Fear Is A Cruel Master pop up in The Sleeping Shaman promo pool, I took this as a sign that now is finally the time to check Ruby The Hatchet out and see what I’ve been missing.
Right off the bat, they sound exactly as they’ve been described to me as Fear Is A Cruel Master‘sopener The Change features the heavy, driving riffery and organ flourishes that had been mentioned, and of course, there were the soaring, epic vocals of Jillian Taylor that make Ruby The Hatchet such a standout band in a genre that can sometimes produce wave after wave of bands that are indistinguishable at times. Her voice is at once powerful, vulnerable, and both soaring and epic. In fact, if we were in a time warp, say the mid-90s, I could totally hear Change played continuously on hard rock/alt-rock radio. Its catchy, soaring chorus and fuzzy, driving riff from Johnny Scarps would fit right in with the grunge-y playlists of the day.
The second single, Deceiver, has a great main riff from Scarps, that also boasts some tasty tone, accentuated by organist Sean Hur’s well-timed flourishes. In fact, all five band members have a chance to shine as the rhythm section of drummer Owen Stewart and bassist Lake Muir also get to stretch their legs, Stewart’s driving beat holding it together allowing Muir to maneuver between his fellow musicians. Of course, there are Taylor’s vocals, which again sound fantastic.
Primitive Man features a particularly fuzzy, slippery riff from Scarps, as Ruby The Hatchet drop into a mid-tempo chug, before the epic, crushing, soaring chorus explodes out of the speakers, to say nothing of the outro chug, which is particularly killer. Taylor’s lyrics certainly seem to be hinting at her displeasure with some of those in power that would seek to restrict, and/or control, one’s thinking and living, while mankind has had to simultaneously mauver through a life-altering pandemic. Thought-provoking stuff.
Ruby The Hatchet shift gears with the sorrowful 1000 Years, featuring some sad, yet epic notes from Scarps, and Taylor’s emotional lyrics sound all the more convincing with her soaring delivery. By the time we get to the organ-infused breakdown, Ruby The Hatchet has managed to take the listener on a true sonic voyage.
a timeless, heavy rock record with some classic metal vibes that goes beyond the usual stoner rock/doom metal fare…
Soothsayer comes off as a true epic classic metal song, with its driving bouncing riff, while the first single, Thruster, revisits some of the doomy, psychedelic vibes of Ruby The Hatchet’s past work, boasting another truly killer riff from Scarps, and some awesome, well-placed organ flourishes over the top from Hur. Taylor’s ‘ooh, ooh, thruster’ sounds particularly awesome on the way out, while running parallel with her bandmate’s histrionics. Thruster wound up being my favorite track on Fear Is A Cruel Master, and I can see why the band chose this as the first single.
Elsewhere, Last Saga is noteworthy, as not only being another sorrowful, ballad-type song, but here Stewart joins Taylor as co-lead vocalist as the two go back and forth, before Taylor really lets loose with some beautiful, ascending vocal work before the two harmonize on the way out. Scarp’s despondent note choices add to the emotional heft.
Fear Is A Cruel Master comes to an epic close with the charging Amor Gravis, Ruby The Hatchet again attaining an air of classic heavy metal, or certainly timeless heavy rock, with both sound, composition, structure and execution. Once again, Taylor sounds fantastic, reminding me a bit of another powerful female vocalist of a doom/psychedelic band I reviewed this year, Alunah’s Sian Greenaway, as the two women display incredible range and power, coupled with a vulnerability, and an uncanny ability to float over their bandmates riff-filled cacophony.
Fear Is A Cruel Master is the type of album that sounds fantastic regardless of year or era. It’s a timeless, heavy rock record with some classic metal vibes that goes beyond the usual stoner rock/doom metal fare. And of course, the band’s secret weapon is Taylor as she possesses a singular voice that is the perfect balance to the fuzzed-out, heavy rock her bandmates are proffering. Yet another great release in a year full of them.
Scribed by: Martin Williams