Archetypes of Californian stoner, Fu Manchu have inspired a ton of followers. After all, the lighthearted, straightforward fuzz rockers have a style that does well on any stage, in any form, and is easily duplicated even by less experienced musicians. But picture a saloon full of personifications of these fun-loving cowboys. Imagine them laughing, drinking beer and playing cards in good nature. Then a silence falls as the door swings open. A gruff figure in the entryway, clad in black, eyes the room wearily, a crumpled cigarette protruding from dry lips in a scarred and stubbled face. The silence holds as he approaches the bar and orders a whiskey in a dark-brown voice. That fellow is Realms of Vision, a new face in town, armed with an eight-pounder called Through All Unknown.
That gun fires riffs, and it fires true. Through All Unknown is chock full of them, pounding and grooving, shaking the plaster from the walls, taking cues from both Californian stoner and epic doom metal. After a short, useless intro, “State of Silence” steamrolls its main riff into view with such heft and weight it could’ve convinced Giles Corey1 to proclaim: “Alright, that’s quite enough.” The guitar tone is fairly clean (sludge influences are minimal here) but possessed of a healthy buzz and bassy undertone. What’s more, Realms aren’t insistent on straight and simple. They are experts at playing around with timing, lagging slightly behind the drums for groovy drag effects (“State of Silence”) or emphasizing a note ahead of the rhythm to create a rushed feel (“Boundless”.) Further embellishments include bent notes and shifted chords, which sound like an engine revving up in these low registers, a ballsy effect that works tremendously well.
Playing with timing around the riffs wouldn’t work nearly as well without a solid rhythm section, and Realms of Vision delivers in spades. The bass is thankfully not buried too much, rumbling along as a solid, heavy foundation beneath the music. The drums make a bigger mark though, rumbling and blasting through the riffs, subtly shifting the rhythm and pacing one minute, hard-hitting and straightforward the next. The only improvement could be made to the vocals. Stoner metal is not generally known for its amazing voices, and in that regard, there is little to complain here. The vocals are clear and have plenty of power, but considering the overall fairly heavy material, they feel a bit too smooth and cool, with plentiful drawling ‘yeah’s and the occasional megaphone distortion. “State of Silence” includes a few moments of sludgy roars in the background, and I would have liked to see more of those ass-annihilating moments of pure gritty power. This is searching for flaws where few are to be found, though.
A non-stop wall of riff-filled goodness can get tiring, however, and Realms remembered to change it up a little on occasion. Solo-hounds don’t need to fret, as most songs lead up to delightfully overdriven examples, with wildly distorted wailing fretboards screaming their siren songs into the ether. Instrumental “Communion at Dusk” is a welcome breather track, jangling with melancholic desert rock and enduring solo guitar. At less than 40 minutes in total, the album is easy to enjoy repeatedly, although a little more room in the master would have improved this experience further. I do feel a little fatigue when spinning it 3 times in a row. As for the mix, the vocals get more focus than the superior guitarwork, but otherwise, the balance is struck well, with the low end particularly powerful.
With so many stoner bands sounding pretty much the same, Realms of Vision use epic doom influences to set themselves apart, with heaving riffs written with a sophistication many of their peers lack. Effortlessly flitting from groovy stomp to pumping rock ‘n roll, and keeping the listener on their toes by playing with rhythm and timing, Through All Unknown staves off repetition and rehashing with verve. Though the style of the vocals doesn’t always perfectly mesh with the music, and some minor gripes about the production remain, this is a top-shelf album, particularly for a debut, and will surely stand as one of the better stoner releases we are likely to see this year.