Interesting fact… well, a fact anyway: I have an ouroboros, which is to say a serpent devouring its own tail, tattooed on my back. An ancient symbol, the earliest known occurrence of an ouroboros dates from pharaonic Egypt and it has been used to represent variously, rebirth, infinity, the cyclical nature of the seasons and more. Gothenburg three-piece Earth Messiah are also going old school with their full-length debut Ouroboros. The Swedes’ downtuned, heavy stoner-rock sound is ripped straight out of the late 1990s and follows on from a solid two-track demo, Nocturnal Thoughtgrinder, which they put out in January 2018. A full cycle of the seasons (and a record deal with Argonauta Records) later, are Earth Messiah reborn or stuck living in the past?
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. The album opens with its title track, “Ouroboros,” a four-and-a-half minute instrumental, which is my song of the album. Its stripped back, repetitive—cyclical?—stoner-blues refrain suggests that Earth Messiah have a strong sense of both restraint and melody, as the delicate chords rise and rise, without ever reaching a crescendo.1 With more than a little of the intro to Kyuss’ “Whitewater” about it, Earth Messiah skillfully use this instrumental piece to draw you into Ouroboros, before it properly kicks off with the rocking “Escape from Reality.” Guitarist Mathias Helgesson delivers big, downtuned riffs that are both pacey and melodic, showcased to particularly good effect on the previously mentioned “Escape from Reality,” as well as “In the Darkness” and “Queen of the Land of Tomorrow.”
Unfortunately, it’s also Helgesson who handles mic duties. The vocals on Nocturnal Thoughtgrinder weren’t setting any worlds alight but Helgesson offered up a strong, clean baritone, edged with just a hint of rasp, which reminded me of Grand Magus’ Janne “JB” Christoffersson. Come Ouroboros, however, the previous vocal style has been largely abandoned in favor of a gravelly bellow, channeling early Clutch gruffness (think Transnational Speedway League and their eponymous sophomore effort). Now, on paper, I admit that sounds pretty promising but in reality it disappoints, as Helgesson lacks variation in his delivery, which also manages to blend into the guitar mix. These sort of throaty bellows are all well and good but, when set against the fuzzy and murky stoner riffage on offer here from Earth Messiah, the vocals sometimes get lost to the detriment of both voice and guitar.
This is a real shame, as the band—including Helgesson himself in his turn as guitarist—serve up pretty decent stoner-rock riffage, combining early Alabama Thunderpussy and Spiritual Beggars energy, with the heaviness and fuzz of Dopethrone-era Electric Wizard. As those comparisons suggest, Earth Messiah are not doing anything that original here, borrowing heavily from the innovators of the stoner genre. Although the riffs can also be a bit repetitive, they come thick and fast, and there’s solid, rumbling work from Marcus Hedkvist on bass, adding depth and a sense of heft to the album. Sadly, there is problem beyond the vocals on show though and that lies with the production, which has the drums very low in the mix, with a weirdly tinny quality to them. While Patrik Orrmén’s drumming is not trying to do anything overly technical, he is decent but let down badly by the production.
The biggest criticism I can level at Ouroboros and the musicians behind it—as opposed to the guy on the mixing desk—is the lack of variety. Unless I am listening out for the song title to be bellowed at me, as it always will be sooner or later, it is pretty hard to distinguish between tracks here. While I am perhaps asking too much from an album that clocks in at only 35 minutes, Earth Messiah have brought this on themselves: by virtue of the instrumental opener, the band show themselves to be capable of a lot more in terms of melody and finesse than is on show for the rest of this record (with the exception of the middle sections of “Attention”). I doubt I will return to Ouroboros, but if Earth Messiah can temper their sound with some of the bluesier sensibilities on show upfront and on their demo, things could get interesting down the line.