If you’ve been following the Chronicles of N00b, you may remember that the last time I was let out of confinement, it was for a forced march through a symphonic winter wonderland. This, after specific requests to review my preferred genre of doom, nearly broke me (no doubt the point). But for my fifth review, I’ve been thrown a bone. Not only do England’s Old Man Lizard play doom, they play the stoner strain: ur-doom that can trace its origin to the moment Sir Lord Baltimore and Black Sabbath crawled out of the primordial ooze after the mantle cooled on Planet Caravan Metal. So does this ancient family bloodline mean a large inheritance, or have years of inbreeding left Old Man Lizard with nothing but a Habsburg jaw?
True Misery is the third full length by this Sudbury trio, and it adds a sludgy viscosity to its stoner doom foundation. You’d be forgiven if upon hearing “stoner/sludge” and “England” you automatically conjured the image of a certain band–rhymes with “Eclectic Blizzard”–but Old Man Lizard is more interested in rocking the desert than hailing Satan. There’s as much blues as bruise to their sound, which lands a bit closer to Kyuss than Conan. This comes through especially in the cleaner guitar licks and solos, which add moments of freshness and clarity to compositions that are somewhat disjointed.
Multiple songs on True Misery have seams and gaps that could use tightening up. True, the stoner style is known for taking it slow and easy, but Old Man Lizard occasionally sound too loose limbed. Ironically, these flaws are compounded by good production. The mix gives every instrument room to breathe, but amplifies each time the drums or guitars are caught flat-footed on a transition. None of these moments are glaring, but the band can sound lackadaisical, even for stoner rock. At worst, songs like “Misery is Miserable,” with its plodding, limb-dragging shuffle, fail to keep one’s attention. This isn’t to say the band lacks compositional or instrumental ambition, there are simply elements hindering the listener’s enjoyment. Case in point is the vocal delivery of Jack Newnham. His gruff shout/singing can be affecting at times, but with no attempt at variation, it becomes monotonous over the course of True Misery’s 44 minutes.
On the album’s best songs, such as “Cursed Ocean, Relentless Sea,” Old Man Lizard show a healthy respect for their Elder by adding touches of subtle prettiness and proggy structure to the sludgy muscle. “Tree of Ténéré” does this one better by wearing the Palm Desert Scene admiration on its sleeve. A bluesy guitar line brightens things up just before the minute mark, and reappears later as the foundation of an all-cylinders-firing groove, complete with earthy guitar solo, that sets up a galloping end to the song. Album closer “Return to Earth” keeps things going along these lines and sports the most memorable riff on True Misery, with a perfect balance of sludge doom and blues. The song ends with Newnham’s coarsely shouted command to “take it easy” on repeat, which is a fitting way to wrap up an album of this particular sub-genre.
It’s moments like this that exemplify what Old Man Lizard does well, namely, the blending of two distinct approaches to stoner doom from two different scenes/countries. But for every “Return to Earth,” there’s a track like “Trees Fall Down,” which starts as a middling riff, meanders through a section where the three words of the title are repeated a few times, and then doesn’t so much end as fizzle out. There’s a good core sound here, but the execution is sometimes mushy. Fans of the style will find things to enjoy in True Misery, and maybe with enough, um, herbal re-enforcement, the album’s sloppier moments and pacing issues wouldn’t be quite so bothersome.