Kadabra – Ultra Review

I used to listen to, and enjoy, heavy psych a lot. I’m beginning to wonder, however, whether the onset of mid-life (not yet a mid-life crisis, please note —emphasis on yet) may have biologically hindered my ability to enjoy the genre. I keep picking it up for review, perhaps in the hope of recapturing some younger version of myself, and steadily continue to dole out 2.0s or 2.5s. And while a low score a day, keeps the Angry Boss Ape away, it’s not very good for the soul, you know? So, I approached Spokane, Washington’s Kabadra more in hope, than expectation, of finding something for me. Can this trio’s debut, Ultra, restore my waning interest in the genre and garner a high score to spark some random acts of gorilla violence?

Many of the psychedelic markers are here. Heavily fuzzed guitars? Check. Groovy bass lines? Check. Random burbling feedback? Check. Lack of discernible song structures leaving the record largely resembling a jam session recorded on someone’s iPhone? Check Um, no actually. Kadabra, despite adopting many psych tropes, straddle the boundary with stoner rock, making Ultra a much more approachable outing. For me at least. From the outset, the combination of Sabbath’s gritty riffage with the stoner ethos of the likes of Five Horse Johnson (minus the harmonica … shame) and the 70s blues rock of a Graveyard, gives Kadabra an energy and familiarity that I found compelling. Yet they add enough of their personality to the record, whether through the feedback-laden interruptions that pepper the likes of opener “Graveyard,” the heavy reverb-centric “Eagle 20’s” or the squealing feedback of “Death,” to give that familiarity of sound an interesting edge.

What really stood out for me on my first spin, however, and continues to do so multiple listens later, are the vocals of guitarist Garrett Zanol. At first, Zanol’s performance behind the mic reminded me of Splendidula’s Kristien Cools, with its almost mesmeric patterns on “Faded Black.” In fact, I’ll be honest, if you’d told me that Zanol were a woman, I’d probably have bought it but, on reflection, there is more than a little of T. Rex’s Marc Bolan in there. Either way, man or woman (the band pic strongly suggests man), Zanol’s delivery, particularly on the bouncy Ultra fun “Bean King,” make Kadabra for me. His riffs are nothing to sneer at either, with a free-flowing groove to the guitar work, punctuated by melodic, bluesy moments of calm (“Eagle 20’s”), as often as it is by skirling distortion and squealing psych fare (“Settle Me”). Ian Nelson’s bass offers up a buzzing groove and ballast to the six-strong work of Zanol, giving the whole a rich depth that I liked.

Indeed, there’s a lot to like about Ultra, which has a nice pace to it, coupled with strong songwriting. Kadabra manage to deliver a varied record, showing different facets of their personality — compare “Bean King” to “Death,” for example — without ever losing their identity. Ultra feels cohesive and balanced for the most part. That said, it’s not a perfect album. Album closer, “Settle Me,” is a step down from the rest of the material on the record, feeling a little tacked on, possibly to give drummer Chase Howard the chance to show off, with a number of fills toward the back end. This is a bit of a shame, both as it ends the album on a relatively low note and because Howard’s performance across Ultra is strong and didn’t need to be emphasized in this slightly hammy way. While Kadabra do nearly everything well, and some things very well, they aren’t breaking any new ground here either and, I think, if one were to strip out Zanol’s vocals, they might sound a little pedestrian.

I don’t want that last paragraph to be blown out of proportion, however. I’ve enjoyed my time with Ultra, which is a good debut from a promising band, which I have no hesitation recommending. Has it salvaged my interest in psychedelic rock? Just about. I’ll risk another promo pick up and, if it’s on a par with Kadabra, I’ll be a happy camper.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Heavy Psych Sounds
Website: kadabraband.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: September 17th, 2021

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