It’s occurred to me that when I go stoner, more times than not, I tend to lean against bands just west of me. Bands like Kyuss, Sleep, High on Fire—all residing in sunny California. Funnily enough, my favorite stoner outfit is all the way out in England [That’s east of you, Magellan. – Steel]. Hell, if you were to look at my stoner collection, you’d think Orange Goblin was an outlier and that stoner metal was an American thing. And my review of Temptation’s Wings newest record wouldn’t challenge that assumption. And now, the stoner bug has bitten old Grier once again. I desire something that’ll make my eyes puffy, my ears happy, and chill me the fuck out. Cue Cortez and their newest release, The Depths Below. I bet you’ll never guess where these doomy stoners are from…
… Boston; that’s where [That’s east too. Get thee a Garmin. – Steel]. Five years ago, this quintet released a fine self-titled debut, chock-full of chunky riffs, killer grooves, lots of good swearing (“Anything that bleeds, can fucking die!”), and hooks galore. It’s a fun record that chugs, sweeps, and swoons with a classic combination of doom and stoner. On the surface, it’s got riffs that hit hard like Orange Goblin, distorted sludge akin to Down and Corrosion of Conformity, and rocking cleans with gruffs that remind me of Brand New Sin. The result is a band just as much rock as they are doom and stoner. And their hooking songwriting proves that.
But, for how much I like Cortez, I like The Depths Below just a touch more. Because of their songwriting approach, there is a great demand on the vocals to shine as much as the guitars. Thankfully, Matt Harrington doesn’t disappoint, delivering his best performance to date. Also, the new record avoids feeling too long—something Cortez couldn’t quite avoid. What’s funny is that The Depths Below has a longer runtime than its predecessor. With careful consideration, the band has crafted lengthy songs like “The Citadel (In the Shadows of Ancients part II),” “Kill Your Ghosts,” and “Orison” to be concise and memorable. But, that doesn’t mean this album is any less diverse than the debut. In fact, it’s even more so.
For road-trip-ready numbers that’ll have you belting repetitious choruses down the freeway, go no further than “All Gone Wrong” and “To the Skies.” For some heavy riffage, be sure to check into the finale of the mid-album trilogy, “In the Shadows of Ancients.” For some sinister groove, whose chugs are ever-exaggerated by its The Sword-like layered vocals, rap at the door of the “Poor and Devoid.” Need some slow-burning groove, with even more old-school vibes thrown in? Then you can’t go wrong with album nightcap, “Orison.” Though these individual descriptions might lead one to believe this album is a clusterfuck of dissimilarities, uniformity does exist.
The song, though, that tops them all would have to be the second part of the “In the Shadows of Ancients” trilogy: “The Citadel.” Most of the song takes on a slow, moody pace that allows Harrington’s vocals to soar high. Then he unleashes some serious gruff when the chorus hits. Along the way, the drums pick up a tribal tone and the stoner-esque guitar solos cap its bass-led interlude. The song concludes with riffs that’ll dry up and crack the mirk below your feet. Unfortunately, the conclusion to the trilogy, “Blood of Heirs,” doesn’t quite capture the power of its predecessor to close out these three tracks. It’s not a bad song, but it feels forced and its underwater chorus just doesn’t click with me. Similar vocal effects are found on “Kill Your Ghosts,” but its psychedelic introduction, melodic qualities, and olde-school ’70s character fit them like a glove.
And then we come to “Dead Channel.” It’s so out-of-place on the record that I’m still trying to decide if I like it or not. Between its in-your-face vocals (that sit somewhere between the poetic angst of Project 86 and rap metal), a mid-song riff straight from everyone’s favorite ’96 Metallica record, and a chorus that sounds like the crying baby of Volbeat and The Sword. It’s fucking weird.
I’d say Cortez‘ debut is a livelier set of tracks, but The Depths Below is a better set of songs. At times, the album is all over the place, but it manages to keep itself together. But, without closer “Orison” behind “Dead Channel,” I’m not sure I could say that. This Black Sabbath-loving doom piece builds until it drives the final nail into the casket. I wouldn’t say The Depths Below is the most original record out there, but its got a classic vibe that many will find pleasing.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Salt of the Earth Records
Websites: cortezboston.bandcamp.com | cortezboston.com | facebook.com/cortezboston
Releases Worldwide: June 30th, 2017