Review: Saint Karloff ‘Paleolithic War Crimes’

It feels like a long since I reviewed Saint Karloff’s second album Interstellar Voodoo back in 2019. In those heady days, I was younger, thinner and, possibly, ever so slightly less bald. I was definitely more naïve as well – there’s no way that I’d volunteer to review an album consisting of a single 30+ minute-long track these days. Good, bad or indifferent that’s just too much like actual work.

Saint Karloff 'Paleolithic War Crimes' Artwork
Saint Karloff ‘Paleolithic War Crimes’ Artwork

Things have changed for Saint Karloff as well but in more profound ways. Founding member and bass player Ole Sletner passed away in 2021 even as work on this next album was underway. Fortunately for us, the band decided to soldier on with the help of Ole’s brother Elvind as lyricist and Jointhugger’s Nico Munkvold playing bass at live performances. The result is Paleolithic War Crimes and it’s a real treat.

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t remember a great deal about Interstellar Voodoo beyond it being a total bitch to review. I recall it being heavy on the vintage-flavoured stoner doom and having some proggy flourishes, but it didn’t make a massive impression on me. This time round, Saint Karloff have turned everything up to 11 to produce an absolute corker of an album. Without being self-consciously retro it has a definite ‘70s all-analogue flavour, mixing the expected stoner doom with an even bigger dollop of prog. Best of all, there are numerous moments that had me remembering a whole slew of classic stoner rock albums from the turn of the millennium which always makes me happy.

Psychedelic Man opens with a pounding, mesmeric riff before slowing down into one of those menacing stoner-doom sections that we all know and love. We then have some nice alternating between the two, and just for yucks, Saint Karloff chuck in some bouncy old school stoner sections. It’s a really awesome way to kick of a record – more groove than you could shake a gnarly stick at and with enough switching around between kick-ass riffs to keep even the most easily bored listener interested.

it’s heavy, it swings, it’s brilliantly played and it’s surprisingly diverse…

Blood Meridian immediately gets toes tapping with a strutting boogie riff before wandering off down an unexpected proggy path with swirly keys and some interesting drumming. That wouldn’t necessarily be quite my bag, but Saint Karloff do it so well and keep things plenty heavy that I’ve no grounds for complaint. Next up we have Among Stone Columns, the obligatory Planet Caravan-style interlude. It’s nicely played, brings to mind balmy summer evenings and only lasts two minutes. I’m good with that.

Bone Cave Escape is the centrepiece of the album, appearing as it does in the, um, middle and being really good. This one really harks back to the heyday of stoner rock, kicking things off with four minutes off full-throttle, foot-to-the-floor heavy rock that belong on a record with some sort of muscle car on the front (possibly with Earth rising over the horizon). Cool vocals, a sweet guitar solo leading into a stomping section that really reminded me of QOTSA’s Tension Head and oodles of strutting ‘70s attitude. Brilliant stuff. Just to keep you on your toes though, in typical Saint Karloff fashion, the final two minutes introduces flute, acoustic guitars and performs a complete 180. Awesome on many, many levels.

Nothing To Come does the opposite, beginning as a mellow, acoustic proggy number that you could imagine someone donning medieval garb to play. After the bass kicks in, we have a minute or two of flat-out rocking, before settling on a middle ground that combines elements of each section. Death Don’t Have No Mercy has the sort of bluesy feel that you’d expect from the bad grammar in the title, played through a filter of classic stoner rock – very much in the vein of fellow Norwegians Lonely Kamel. I loved the guitar tone on this one, straight from somewhere in Sweden back in 1999, and it marks another one of the subtle changes of mood across the record. Saint Karloff close things out with Supralux Voyager, the sort of epic slow-burn prog odyssey that feels like the only way to end a record like this. A thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

Paleolithic War Crimes is such a good record on so many levels: it’s heavy, it swings, it’s brilliantly played and it’s surprisingly diverse. People deal with grief and loss in different ways and it’s not for me to say whether any of them are right or wrong. However, if Saint Karloff were looking to honour the memory of their former friend and band member by releasing one of the rocking-est albums of the year, then I reckon they’ve very much succeeded.

Label: Majestic Mountain Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Liam Blanc