Stonewall Noise Orchestra // Salvation
Rating: 2.0/5.0 — Not as “groovy” as you’d expect
Label: Transubstans Records
Websites: Stonewall Noise Orchestra | facebook.com
Release Dates: Out Worldwide: February 6th, 2013
The bio for Salvation, the new record by Sweden’s awesomely-named Stonewall Noise Orchestra, states that they are “influenced by 70’s [sic] groovy rock along with many other sources of inspiration.” More retro/stoner rock? With a vague disclaimer right there in the bio?! I find this troubling, at best.
And it is, but not for the reasons I thought. Halfway through Salvation, I went from feeling apathetic about hearing more stoner rock, to feeling disappointed that this wasn’t stoner-y enough [dangerously close to “samey,” Mr. Fist — Steel Druhm]. Other than cloning Queens Of The Stone Age’s guitar tone perfectly, this stuff has more in common with adjective-less modern rock, as far as songwriting and production go. At best, it resembles Monster Magnet‘s poppier moments; at worst, the riffs here are generic enough that they could belong to any faceless band on FM radio.
This was not always the case – some quick research into S.N.O.‘s back catalog reveals a band that is thoroughly enamored with American stoner rock (Kyuss/QotSA in particular) and Southern/blues imagery in general. As a result, those songs were far from original, but they were cohesive and made sense stylistically. They also rocked pretty hard. Sadly, this is not quite the case with Salvation, as the more polished production and songwriting tend to detract from the bigger picture.
Case in point: album opener “Die Die Die” starts off strong, with a driving Middle Eastern-ish riff and percussion to match. All is fine until the band attempts to go for the big chorus, which is tanked by inane lyrics (“it’s a wonderful world/and then you die“) and the fact that it’s not that great of a chorus. Deeper cuts like “Escape Artist” and “Beating Butterflies” bear quiet verse/loud chorus song structures that veer way too close to American radio rock for comfort. Closing track “Dead Eden” attempts some twangy blues, but ends up sounding more like “Radar Love.”
There’s also a bit of a disconnect between the vocals and the rest of the music. In order to play bluesy/stonery [watch your ass! — Steel Druhm] rock convincingly, you need a singer who is… how should I put this… kind of a scumbag. John Garcia, Dave Wyndorf, Bobby Liebling, etc. are not gifted vocalists by any stretch, but they are effective because they sound like guys who sell pot to 8th graders and/or drive rape vans. S.N.O.‘s vocalist, Singe, does not sound like he does either of those things. If anything, he sounds kinda like Ian Gillan. No disrespect, the guy is actually a fucking good singer — but his lack of grit makes him seem a little out of place. And again, this seemed to be less of an issue on S.N.O.‘s past records.
Oddly, the most outside-the-box track on the album is also the one where everything actually comes together. “Monsoon Song” is a droney acoustic piece, much darker and gloomier than the rest of the record. On this track, Singe is in hiscomfort zone, his lyrics work, and together with the rest of the band, they set a mood. It may not be rocket science, but it fucking works. The fact that they could do something this left-field, and pull it off, just makes me scratch my head at these other songs that don’t quite make the grade.One important part of being a musician is knowing your limitations. As much as you have to respect S.N.O. for trying to branch out, it’s possible that their true strength is playing straightforward, Kyuss-esque stoner rock. Salvation is not without its strong points, but the unnecessary production and poppier songwriting just weaken the brew. The result is an entertaining (if somewhat misguided) record of decent, catchy rock music.