Let’s ease into 2019, shall we? After a climactic December that saw about a million Things You Might Have Missed posts, nearly two dozen Top Ten(ish) lists, and a few more outstanding releases, it’s time to let our collective breath out, sit back, and strap in for what we all hope will be a stellar year for metal. And while early January might not be blessing us with any albums that will stick around until list season, there are a few that are worth digging into. Is this shorty (a mere seven songs and 30 minutes) from Los Angeles’ Deathchant one of those? If you’re into psychedelic proto-rock, with all sorts of other spices added in, then this eponymous debut just might kick-start your year.
The anchors of this trippy collection are blistering, fuzzy guitars, and driving rhythm. Deathchant certainly do know how to rock. Both “Pessimist” and “Control” are aggressive rockers with rather predictable chord progressions, but catchy nonetheless. Ditto for the album’s final three songs, which are even better. “Hex” is the high point on Deathchant, with a killer vibe, fun little lead breaks scattered throughout, and even a dueling wah solo. “Trigger” is only slightly behind, opening with a wall of fuzz that only Fu Manchu or Monolord might top, and, like “Hex,” it features an earworm of a riff.
But don’t rest easy, thinking that all we’ve got here is a brief collection of spaced-out zingers. Just as we’re settling into the groove in “Pessimist,” the band breaks down into feedback-drenched noise. Then, as suddenly as it started, the chaos ends and the band carries on as if nothing had happened—until the song ends with even more noise. A similar arrangement unsteadies us in the next song, “Control,” and makes me worry. Doing this in every song would be a gimmick rather than a twist. Luckily, while feedback is prevalent throughout, it’s tastefully placed, and it doesn’t grow tiresome. Think Crazy Horse covering Uncle Acid.
The album’s downfall arrives in the two middle songs. “Ritual” is the longest, six minutes long, and almost entirely unmemorable. It drags and drags with no payoff, and when one song takes up 20% of an album, that’s not good. “Eulogy” follows, and is a brief instrumental that’s hardly needed right after “Ritual.” I see what Deathchant have done with the pacing, giving us some respite from their up-tempo songs with these two cuts in the middle, but the quality doesn’t stand up to the other tracks. I’m sure as the band continues to write and play, this will be less of an issue, and the other five songs rank from solid to stellar.
Deathchant was recorded and self-produced in just two days, but with this style that doesn’t detract from the music. The mix is thick and saturated. While the guitars are aggressively front and center, the rhythm section is not to be ignored. Vocal style falls in line with Uncle Acid’s reverb/echo template, but it doesn’t seem as gimmicky, maybe because TJ Lemieux’s vocals remind one more of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) than Kevin Starrs (Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats). Additionally, while the vocals and the guitar tones are decidedly lo-fi, the album as a whole doesn’t sound that way. There’s plenty of bottom and top end in the final product.
Psychedelic rock comes across as more gimmicky than anything, which makes good songwriting even more important. Deathchant show potential here with a few solid rockers and a couple of straight-up bangers, but the throwaway tracks in the middle hold the album back, especially on such a short offering. Deathchant have established their style; now they just need to refine it and continue to hone their songwriting.