Chi Lameo and the sonically ever shifting sludge, stoner, doom band Spider Kitten of Chris West and Jesus (Steve) Jones are a special talent. Previous reviews have listed the variety and high points of their catalogue to exhaustion at this stage, and 2021 sees them adding yet another release to their already impressive arsenal of tunes in the form of full-length album, the tongue in cheek titled Major Label Debut.
Back in May 2020 when the ever-evolving Newport based trio released their forgotten/rediscovered EP acidgoatweedwitchbongspacewizardwhore I paraphrased Therapy?, in that their output was so prolific that even if you weren’t sold on the stop gap release, it wouldn’t be long before they came along with something new.
I said that armed with the demo of this album, and now finally they’re ready to unleash their next long playing record, the first since the band’s high-water mark of 2016s Ark Of Octofelis and the irony of describing the album title as tongue in cheek is that actually Spider Kitten’s 30th release (that’s right, count em…) is so good, it deserves to be showcased on a major label.
Since the release of the sprawling concept album, and before the release of last year’s EP, the band had given us the Sinister & Concise EP, which saw the band dial back up some of their heavier doom sounds and here, they demonstrate how exactly to take those foundations and build something totally new.
Yes, there is a nod to Tony Iommi on the opening track A Problematic Favourite, but Major Label Debut is built around a 90s grunge aesthetic that sees a common theme with the 2020 offering that has been agonised over from the artwork to the eight surprisingly deft and varied songs on display here. Every fine detail has been refined to the point where the album roars from the speakers with a bullish attitude, feeling like a band on top of their game and fully confident in their abilities to deliver an album full of tunes that will stick, to quote Alice In Chains, ‘to your mouth like peanut butter on the brain’.
This self-belief and swagger are juxtaposed to the lyrical content, which is a discourse in the agonies of mental health. Throughout the duration of the album the vocal narrative rants and raves, quietly and softly undermines and attacks the subject with charm and disarming humour, often in a singular track. Chi’s voice ranges across the spectrum, commanding and full of doom, whispered and full of doubt, but twisted into clever turns and singable phrases. Often like the complexity of the inner dialogue of sufferers, depression and anxiety take on a multi-faceted approach, as seductive and appealing as it repels.
Musically the album shares a bond with acidgoatweedwitchbongspacewizardwhore, the love of Alice In Chains previously prevalent in the band’s influence rears its head on several tracks, not least in the effect laden multi-layered vocal harmonies that litter the album, terrifying and beautiful at the same time.
Major Label Debut is an electrifying thrill ride through psychosis…
On A Problematic Favourite they tower over the galloping riffs with the playful yet unsettling and sarcastic ‘Fine time to find me’ setting the scene for Spider Kitten to take a scalpel to their own psyche and this continues on the densely heavy The Art Of Sleeping, walls of sound and pounding rhythms create edgy and paranoid atmospheres as the lyrics talk of new plans, then falling apart and everything being a lie.
The album rips past the never settling Maladjusted, a tune as good as any they’ve previously written. Chi laughed it off with the quip ‘when in doubt rip off the Melvins’ as it’s an urgent anthem drenched in surf rock sensibilities and featuring an awesome fuzzed out solo, whilst Self Care (Makes Me Wanna Die) is a bullish, punk rock style number, like a Sub Pop Dead Kennedys with a singalong gang chorus.
Never letting up for the albums short run time Cherophobia (an aversion to being happy) is raw throated but melodic and catchy as hell and Over The Edge closes out the album with vocal harmonies and an almost Silver by Nirvana vibe as the lyrics sound upbeat, but disturbingly like a thin smile stitched over gritted teeth.
Even the two mellower moments on the album, the downbeat Hearts And Mindworms with its self-depreciating whispers of doubt and Sandbagged (Whoa, Yeah) which recalls fatalism of the Tripod era Alice In Chains, are never far from a hook and a melody that is ready to pull you in.
Self-produced as ever, Major Label Debut sounds bold, brash, and vibrant. Chris West’s drums smash and ring with power as the guitars from both Steve and Chi scythe through the buzzsaw effects making the album a much heavier, more direct proposition than the last few releases and is built around solid, punishing riffing that sinks into your brain and pulls you into the undertow.
There are no 15-20-minute tracks here, there are no lofty conceptual tales of Vikings, or decaying Americana. Instead, each track is short and to the point with many a sing-along moment making it deceptively accessible. The insanely prolific Spider Kitten continue to defy convention and this latest release is no exception.
If you yearn for the simpler times of the nineties, this album will scratch that itch, but far from being a simple re-tread, Major Label Debut is an electrifying thrill ride through psychosis with a doom metal flavoured soundtrack to die for.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden