Listen, by the time December rolls around we don’t want to review new albums. We’re too busy listening to our favorites of the year to bother with new releases. But I’m a sucker for female-fronted blues-rock and occult bands—I love Blues Pills and Sabbath Assembly, and last year I had Pristine’s album high on my list—so when Juniper Grave’s debut landed in our promo pit, I had to grab it. Of Hellions and Harridans promises to be an enticing blend of occult rock, blues, and psychedelia, all-embracing fantastical themes of “warrior women and accursed souls.” Let’s see if this Edinburgh quartet can force their way through my Top Ten(ish) binging with some electric magic.
“The Forest” introduces us to the band in ominous fashion, with Jenni Sneddon’s organ rumbling beneath her opening vocal lines. The song is anchored by a fairly rote riff, though, and passes the time in innocuous fashion. “A Trick of the Light” features a very 70s-inspired riff played aggressively, but I’m left wanting more, as is the case in many songs here. I keep thinking if one of the bands I mentioned in the opening paragraph were playing these songs, they’d be taking the performance up a notch. “Dance of the Daemon Queen” is the most interesting song on the album—or at least, the opening is-with throbbing keyboards and echoing moans. However, when the song proper kicks in it meanders aimlessly, aiming for a mythical, occult feel but never quite attaining it.
With only seven songs, Juniper Grave have not given themselves much room for error, and one of their bigger mistakes here comes in the form of song length. The last four songs on Of Hellions and Harridans average seven minutes in length, and there’s nothing going on in any of the songs to warrant these running times. The closing track, the mouthful-entitled “Rest With Your Dead (Faoiltighearna),” has a fantastic opening, where we are picking our way through a leaf-strewn cemetery, but the song, despite being the album highlight, is still far too long. The band is going for a real doom/occult feel in many of these songs, maybe more in line with Sabbath Assembly than Blues Pills, but either way, they’re just shy of the mark.
Of Hellions and Harridans features warm production, with gorgeous organs and sumptuous guitar tones. It’s not without flaws, though. The drums are oddly subdued, while the vocals are higher than they should be based simply on quality. Jenni Sneddon has a warm, inviting voice, but she doesn’t do as much with it as I’m sure she is capable of. There are only a scattering of moments (“The Bridge Between Worlds” and “Lunar Calling”) where it sounds like she cares about what she’s singing, which is a shame. I’d love to hear her really belt it out a few times here. Aside from “Rest With Your Dead,” it doesn’t seem as though the band is fully committed to the sound and style they are aiming for.
When we’re talking about occult rock that has more than a hint of blues undertones, nothing is more important than feel and chemistry. Being only two years into their career, it’s obvious that Juniper Grave still have room for improvement on that front. Often a song’s rhythm lurches rather than throbs (most strongly evident in “The Forest” and The Bridge Between Worlds”); years of gigs will add the necessary seasoning. That, along with stronger songwriting and more emotional vocal delivery, could push Juniper Grave higher up on my list of bands to keep an eye on. As it stands, Of Hellions and Harridans is an okay debut, but not one that raises eyebrows.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Wasted State Records
Websites: junipergrave.bandcamp.com | junipergrave.com | facebook.com/junipergrave
Releases Worldwide: December 7th, 2018