Long Island, New York is a strange place. Geographically speaking it’s the penis of the Empire State, and essentially a vast, sprawling suburb for New York City that runs from the rough n’ tumble boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens through the tony Hamptons and on to the picturesque Montauk lighthouse. Though city adjacent, it has a culture and vibe all its own. Think of a tense middle ground between The Jersey Shore and Goodfellas and you’re in the right zip code. It’s a place of rowdy attitude and stubborn pride, as depicted in the various lyrics by favorite son Billy Joel, and it’s not for everyone. But hey, if you don’t like it, you can fuck off back to whatever garbage town you crawled out of. From this raucous suburban jungle comes the silverback charmers in Gorilla Wizard as they peddle their unruly take on riffy stoner/sludge metal. Legend tells that guitarist “Lar” wears a gorilla mask during live performances, and their promo materials enticingly promise that they can send along “a solid meat sauce recipe,” so being a fellow gorilla from Long Island, I felt compelled to rescue their debut Tales From the Cauldron from the promo cesspool. Let the chest thumping and ape on ape bloodshed commence.
After a riff-heavy intro, things get hairy with “The Closet Monster Shuffle,” which is a fairly rocking and rambunctious take on stoner metal with one foot in the Clutch catalog while the other shoe kicks The Melvins and Helmet discographies around trying to shake loose some inspiration. Big, burly riffs do much of the talking, but vocalist Gabrel does his best to up the energy with a collection of ragged shouts, howls and death gurgles. The musical recipe is entertaining and high-energy, but the execution runs into problems with too few ideas and too much repetition. The template works a bit better on uni-directional steamrollers like “Smashosaurus” and “Mechanization,” the latter of which reminds me wistfully of the Crossover era of D.R.I..
The best moments are found in the NOLA-flavored swamp boogie of “Black and Blue,” which comes across as a more polished piece of songcraft with ample balls, a fat bass presence and a pocketful of hearty riffs to guide the drunken proceedings. Other cuts like “Maple Crunch” and “Space Tree” seem as if the band was unsure what direction they were going in when they wrote them, mixing stoner rock, sludge, punk and death metal in ways that don’t fully gel. “Space Tree” is especially afflicted with this malady, sounding like a bunch of undeveloped ideas left over from Carcass‘ Swansong era that were stolen by Autopsy and jammed out after way too many Four Lokos.
There’s definitely a kind of identity crisis at work here, as the band swings from boozy stoner rock into sludge and death without much resembling rhyme or reason. This is likely due to the fact that some of the material here is 10 years old and they’re finally getting to use it on a record. It’s to their credit then that the album comes across as enjoyable as it does, leaving the listener feeling as if they’re tossed in a sweaty slam pit in some back alley club with free Jägermeister shots and a 20 drink minimum. It’s a dumpster fire, but a fun one. The riffing by Lar is rudimentary and simplistic, but it works more often than not to drive the music someplace worthwhile. Lar’s forays into soloing however are very hit or miss. The album features an omnipresent bass sound which gives the material a nice rumble and punch that pairs well with the beefy riffage. Gabrel’s vocals are definitely an acquired taste, all over the damn place as they are. They’re not always effective, and his “singing” voice is a bit annoying, but his death croaks and gurgles are quite entertaining.
Tales From the Cauldron sounds like the output of a young, inexperienced band that has potential, but is still struggling to find their sound. They do some things well, and others not so much, but I’m enjoying the overall product despite the rough edges, occasional ape cake mishap and poo throwing incidents. I get the feeling Gorilla Wizard would be a blast to experience live and with a bit more experience, they could just uncork a mighty (Joe Young) of an album. I’ll be watching from the lush foliage of Long Island and waiting.