Like Fu Manchu taking amphetamines with Sleep? Like Kyuss having a Tequila and Aquavit drinking session with The Hives? Like Clutch driving through the desert while Monster Magnet and Soundgarden make out in the back seat? I’m trying to come up with some band-combination superlatives to describe Ruff Majik‘s sound, but it really isn’t easy. Ruff Majik produce an eclectic sprawl of heavy rock’n’roll that covers ground many bands would struggle to get across in their entire careers, yet alone on one album.
Ruff Majik hail from South Africa, and have been around for the last few years putting out various zoologically titled releases and honing their sound; The Devil’s Cattle is the culmination of this time spent developing their craft. On top of a base coat of desert rock, the band add layers of stoner doom, garage punk, psychedelia, blues, boogie-woogie, grunge… the list goes on. It’s wild and raucous, it’s unashamedly catchy, and at times it’s ferociously heavy too. It’s also some of the most inventive heavy rock I’ve heard in a long time.
The band’s song-writing is top notch too. At no point in this record did I feel like the combination of sounds felt out of place or muddled, the band adapt these styles into their own sound and it all makes perfect sense together. Opening track All You Need Is Speed kicks off with the sound of a revving engine (of course!) and is a fast-paced and catchy foot-tapper, whilst Swine Tooth Grin follows up with a more leisurely stoner groove mixed with some southern blues vibes. I even here some hints of The Mars Volta in the more melodic moments of Heart Like An Alligator and the Memphis stomp of Gregory, the melodies and harmonies blending together in strange and curious ways.
The record continues on with the title track, which is a pleasant enough desert rock anthem, but ironically the least impressive track here. Jolly Rodger, however, is a superb glam rock banger that sounds like T-Rex if Mark Bolan had played through a Russian Big Muff and a wall of OR-50s. Who Keeps Score reminds me of Muse in their early days of fuzzy bass and gnarly riffs, before the faux-prog self-indulgence of their later work. Trading Blows could be the best song that Queens Of The Stone Age never wrote and the closing track Hymn #5 is a monstrous wall of pure doom riffs and cacophonous sustain; mixed with the creepy sounds of an apocalyptic religious ministry, it wouldn’t sound out of place on many of the heaviest doom albums coming out today.
It’s wild and raucous, it’s unashamedly catchy, and at times it’s ferociously heavy too…
The vocals through the album are mostly Robert Plant style high pitched wails, the kind that are highly tuneful but just on the verge of going over the cliff into atonality. The singer has range though, with some songs adding a more sultry baritone to the mix, particularly on the acoustic roots track God Knows. Born To Be Bile even goes into death metal territory amongst it’s vicious stoner doom hooks, adding in some creepy growls that are washed in flanger for some extra psychedelia.
Many of the tracks open with samples or sound effects; there’s no concurrent theme to them across the record, they’re more specific to the individual songs. They’re used to add atmosphere in a similar way to Electric Wizard, rather than to create the kind of conceptual path such you find on a record like Songs For The Deaf. Some of these samples are more serious in tone though, and it becomes clear as the record goes on that the band aren’t just here to make fun and carefree stoner rock. There is a meaningful and sincere expression to the album amongst the heady mixture of sounds.
There are so many different ideas here, and it’s amazing to see a band making heavy music with this level of creativity and the ability to make it all feel so connected. My ‘bands-coming-together’ descriptions at the beginning didn’t quite work because ultimately by mixing all those artists you end up producing Queens Of The Stone Age. To that end, Ruff Majik are not entirely a beast of their own because they do have many musical similarities to Josh Homme & Co. What they have done though is produce a truly exceptional album that brings desert rock forward into the context of modern doom’s punishing heaviness. This is a seriously good album, and Ruff Majik could well be the next band to break out from the heavy rock underground.
Scribed by: Will J