Music is an ever-evolving art form that changes with time and cultural trends, feeding off and reacting to events around it. From the moment the first note was struck that sounded the blues, to Elvis shaking his hips being branded obscene or possessed, to Black Sabbath striking satanic terror into the hearts of listeners, it connects on an emotional level that seeks to change the environment around it.
As such styles change, the fresh and innovative become old and jaded, ready to be replaced by the next. After a decade of kicking back against the rise of nu metal, the new wave of American heavy metal metalcore influences were growing old and stale like the trend before, and in rural Suffolk in the UK, three teenagers were reaching back to the sounds of High On Fire, Black Sabbath, stoner gods Sleep, defunct British sludge metal titans Iron Monkey and hard-hitting innovators Mastodon to form a dirty, sludge drenched act called Toom.
Sadly, Toom never became an enduring act, the members calling time on the band before it ever really gained traction. The Toom alumni however all went on to form bands that have gained notoriety in the British music scene; Guitarist Teddy-James Driscoll in the murky brilliance of Telepathy and the hooky rock and roll of Cobra Lucha, Jus Smith in the folk-tinged Purson and Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats and drummer/vocalist Jack Newnham of Old Man Lizard, and the mighty Slabdragger.
However, before they parted ways for pastures new, with Toom they harnessed the skills of their friend Jason Aminian, who was studying at SAE London University, to use the studio and in one night thrashed out a four track EP that would ultimately never see the light of day. Now Behold The Basilisk has been resurrected and given life by APF Records who invite us to step back in time and hear the merging talents of the band members as they tried to find their way in the UK sludge, stoner, and doom scene.
The acoustic intro of Snake Chalmers, complete with raw, echoing finger slides (a sound I love) does little to prepare you for the seismic, cavernous stoner groove that heralds the first proper track There’s Nothing Cute About Cobras. As bullish and defiant, as the introduction is tender, and despite the relatively lo-fi production value, you can hear the riffing evolve into the sort of grinding style that Slabdragger would go on to harness on their fantastic Rise Of The Dawncrusher album.
APF Records have brought back a forgotten, lost gem from a band that only a select few probably even knew about…
Jack Newham’s mighty roar, full-throated, impressive, and executed whilst battering the shit out his drum kit, is rich and powerful even eleven years ago, in a half shout, half-spoken baritone. Meanwhile, Jus Smith’s bass, more known these days for his funky and sleazy takes, is grimy and pulsing.
Mandark is a wall of droning, fuzzed-out sound that is constantly shifting in styles; smashing and powerful, stop start dynamics, and driving stoner heaven with more than a head nod to Iron Monkey, it’s a pure act of sonic belligerence until Driscoll’s meandering psyched out solo.
Decapodiformes is monstrously heavy and features a full-on blues canter to mark the halfway point, along with another show stealing solo. Probably the strongest of the three full tracks of this sludge influenced stoner/doom melting pot, this is the moment when you imagine how much fun the band must have had jamming out to these tracks and lament the possibilities of what could have been.
Behold The Basilisk has to be viewed with a certain amount of perspective. Is it going to be considered an essential purchase? Not really. This release will appeal to completists, and fans, of the members current bands, in particular Slabdragger and Telepathy with whom Toom share a more obvious sonic kinship. It’s deliciously raw and rough as one would expect from a first studio outing that was smashed out on one cold wintery night and recorded by a friend. It’s a tribute to great untapped potential as the chemistry and charm of the EP is evident, which is saying something as it’s easy to be complacent all these years later with a burgeoning UK scene.
APF Records have brought back a forgotten, lost gem from a band that only a select few probably even knew about at the time. Lovingly given new life, it will hopefully delight a whole raft of new listeners and get them to check out the band members other ventures after a decade plus honing their craft.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden