Growing up, my teenage cat-brain was filled with all sorts of bizarre questions and interesting “What If?” scenarios. How long is the prison sentence for cutting the tags off my mattress? What other dimension does the other sock go when its sibling emerges from the dryer? Most puzzling of them all would have to be “What if Glenn Danzig and his cohorts did away with their Satanic leanings and lyrics during their musical peak, and decided to just smoke a metric fuck-ton of pot instead?” For starters, his grocery list would consist of even more munchies, and lastly, you would get pretty close to Baltimore’s heady, heavy Haze Mage and their impressive full-length debut, Chronicles.
I say “pretty close,” because it’s not a fully accurate summation of their music. Chronicles still worships at the altars of Sabbath and Kyuss quite heavily, but with more of the warmth and vibe that permeates in the former. Guitarists Kevin Considine and Nick Jewett stuff this album full of catchy riffs and killer guitar solos, with “Storm Blade” also giving off an early Iron Maiden vibe in terms of sheer kinetic energy aided by John De Campos’ phenomenal drumming. In fact, on a musical level, only closer “Dread Queen” feels like a long-lost Danzig III: How the Gods Kill outtake,1 with a nice acoustic opening that builds up to an amazing doom song complete with soaring closing howls by vocalist Matthew Casella before quietly returning to the opening acoustic riff to close out the album.
But those vocals are Danzig worship through and through. Casella’s warm, haunting baritone eerily replicates that of the former Misfit, with album highlight (and current pick for my Song o’ the Year) “Bong Witch” making the strongest case. Seriously, listen to the first chorus when Casella howls “Tell me, bong witch/What do you see in your glass?” and not imagine Glenn crooning with his foot on a monitor. Needless to say, Casella’s powerful vocals steal the show a bit, but still fit the music like a well-worn leather glove. On “Fire Wizards,” a little bit of Ian Astbury pokes through during the chorus, and “Corpse Golem” absolutely explodes when Casella soars during the final chorus, as if he personally summoned it himself and was proud of his work. His vocals elevate some already impressive songs to levels above their contemporaries.
But there are still some bugs that harsh the mellow that Chronicles provides. For starters, Noel Mueller’s mix squashes things a bit too much, with Scott Brenner’s bass taking the biggest hit, as it’s more heard than felt. Also, De Campos’ drums, while powerful, also suffer from the squashing, as his cymbals sound a bit too distorted. On the songwriting front, “Dread Queen” lingers a bit too long for my liking, as they could have shaved off a minute or two and hit with harder impact. Elsewhere, “Harbinger” introduces growls and shrieks into the mix. Now, I don’t have a problem with either vocal style, as I enjoy black and death metal as much as I love my doom, but neither fit very well in the context of the song, and were completely unnecessary.
The positives far outweigh the negatives, though. Chronicles, despite a couple of hurdles, threw down quite a gauntlet for other stoner doom bands to pick up. Between the tar-thick riffs, incredible soaring leads, and one powerhouse of a vocalist, Haze Mage are off to an impressive start with their debut, and “Bong Witch” won’t stop playing on my phone, no matter how many different promos the editors throw at me. I’d say that’s a sign for a damn good record. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some tags to cut…