I first heard of Black Mastiff back in 2014, when John Garcia covered “Rolling Stoned” on his self-titled solo album. It was one of the album highlights for me (go listen to it!), and made me dig a little into the band. Lo and behold, they’re based just up the road from me, in Edmonton. Pretty cool to have the god of desert rock cover a song by some near-local heroes! Not satisfied with that, though, the band had Garcia produce their second album, Music Machine. After that, they seemed to go dark, as some bands do. Well, they’re back with a new album on their own label, looking to recapture the magic that had John Garcia intrigued. Can these northern Canadian boys dial into the desert rock sound, or will this be more like winter metal on the prairies?
Sadly, the opening trio of songs does not make me feel warm inside. Memorable riffs are nonexistent, and catchy choruses are elusive. “Bike Club” exhibits the laid-back groove one looks for in stoner rock and is the best of the first three songs. The music is thick and fuzzy, and Bob Yiannakoulias has a charismatic voice and above-average guitar chops. However, it isn’t until the fourth track, “A Tangle,” that my ears truly perk up. The great John Garcia would be wise to cover this song as well, as it would fit in perfectly with his more electric work. It features a super-simple riff beneath an alluring croon. When this song came on my first time through the album I stopped what I was doing and sat down, thinking “ah, there we go!” This is stoner metal: a simple earworm riff that hooks you in and has you grinning.
There are a few other jams here that will have listeners nodding in appreciation. “Other Kinds” plays off of a jazzy 6/4 time signature1, making for a compelling changeup at the album’s midpoint. “Star Base 77” has a classic-sounding riff that could be any band, but combined with Yiannakoulias’s vocals it becomes a successfully groovy track. “Spastic Rhythms” again goes for a more obscure time signature that plods its way into our hearts, and closing track “Stranger” is the most hypnotic song here, with oddly alluring riffs and the record’s best vocal melodies. Black Mastiff do not have a song that’s over five minutes long here, but if one lent itself to an extended jam, it’s “Stranger.”
As far as stoner rock albums go, Black Mastiff have given Loser Delusions a very subdued sheen. Unlike Fu Manchu or Monolord, the fuzz isn’t the featured sound here, but rather just part of the overall package. The mix is extremely well-balanced. John Garcia’s version of “Rolling Stoned,” for comparison, is so bottom-heavy as to make one think one’s ears are plugged. Not so here. Allan Harding’s drums are sharp and clean, and Clay Shea’s bass is likewise rationally mixed, with a touch of overdrive here and there but otherwise taking its place in the background. And while many of the songs come off as mundane, none are outright bad cuts. They sound great and are played admirably.
Loser Delusions isn’t the album I was hoping to hear from Black Mastiff, but it’s not bad either. To boil it down, the songwriting chops aren’t quite up to snuff. All ten songs sound good, and the band has great feel and swagger, but the standout tracks are in the minority. And for a band that prides itself in jamming, and the joy found therein, it seems odd that every song is so short and structured. Still, it’s great to see the band releasing a new album, and here’s to hoping they stay at it and keep honing their skills.