This has to be just about one of the most hotly anticipated releases within the stoner/doom circles of the last couple of years. With a “supergroup” of this calibre expectations will surely be sky high. First up we have the elder statesman of the scene and his presence and distinctive style looms large over his past work with St Vitus, The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, Place of Skulls and his own solo work. If Al Cisneros had only ever contributed Holy Mountain by Sleep then his place in history would be secure but Dopesmoker and his work with Om consolidate that. The Melvins’ Dale Crover is a drumming legend without a doubt and last but not least we have Scott Kelly from Neurosis. Admittedly I’ve always found Neurosis to be as dull as ditchwater but the influence of that band can’t be denied.
So, with all of this talent under one roof you would expect the results to be pretty astounding. Well, are they? The individual performances are as exceptional as you might hope. Wino’s rich, time served whiskey drenched vocals sound every bit as vital as they ever have and compliment the rougher hewn tones of Scott Kelly and Al Cisneros who growl and roar with a muscular conviction that many pretenders fail to match. Crover’s drumming seems perfectly suited to propelling the wall of progressive doom that Shrinebuilder are…ahem…building here. His offbeat progressive leaning counterbalances his sheer weight and propulsive force. The whole thing is wrapped up in an expansive, molasses thick production that perfectly suits the combined riff power on display.
Ultimately however, all the playing ability and production values don’t add to up to a hill of beans if the tunes aren’t there and this is where I have some issue with Shrinebuilder. A superficial listen ticks many of the boxes, yes it is astoundingly heavy and powerful at times, it has a great range of dynamics from mighty Sabbath fuelled doom to tripped out progressive Floydian introspection. Dig a little deeper though and repeated listens don’t necessarily stand up. Sure the riffs are as heavy as you might hope for but there is little here that offers true inspiration. The Sabbath well has been richly plundered over the past 40 years by just about every metal band in existence and there is nothing here riff wise that you haven’t heard a million times before by a thousand different bands. What they do they obviously do well but given the mighty riff heritage of Sleep and the progressive doom that we know Wino to be capable of I would expect a little more than the plodding fare being offered up here.
The other noticeable thing here is how, despite creating a massive and impressive sound, the musicians don’t seem to gel as a unit. It seems that each member has brought his style to his own parts of the whole rather than create something fresh…you get the Wino bit, the Sleep bit, the Neurosis bit all tacked together into five rather overlong and unfocussed tracks with little variety in pace. Probably the stand out track sits neatly in the middle. Blind For All To See eases back on the riff and rides along on a more restrained almost dub like groove that brings to mind some of Ozric Tentacles’ more trippy pieces of possibly Earthless. At over 7 minutes, however, it does somewhat outstay its welcome.
Obviously conceived in the studio, Shrinebuilder have now taken this album out on the road. I’m hoping as they grow together as a unit then any future collaborations will prove to be a little more satisfying and show more of a collective sense of individuality (how’s that for an oxymoron!!!) This would be an impressive album by a bunch of newcomers but doesn’t live up to the heritage that Shrinebuilder possess.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall