Saint Karloff – Paleolithic War Crimes Review

The time-dilating effects of the pandemic reveal themselves when considering Saint Karloff’s latest effort. Paleolithic War Crimes follows 2019’s Interstellar Voodoo, a platter that consists of a single forty-minute track. Interstellar Voodoo feels like it came out either two weeks or two thousand years ago; I can’t always tell which, but I swear I just read Steel’s rave for the first time and filed the record away as one to dig into whenever that mythical chunk of free time presents itself. That album’s combo platter of songwriting brio and Sabbath-ian, Kyuss-ite riffage captivated our Hairy Knuckled Underboss. Four long years (that somehow also feel like four short weeks) later, Saint Karloff returns with a new batch of progressive occult rock. The band lost founding bassist Ole Sletner to cancer in the interim, and Paleolithic War Crimes reckons with that tragedy amid all the jamming. Can these Norwegians vanquish both calamity and the passage of time to recreate the magic of Interstellar Voodoo?

Paleolithic War Crimes takes a more straightforward approach than its predecessor, leaning on its seven tracks to engage the listener over a forty-one minute span. There’s an increased emphasis on the progressive elements of the band’s sound, with tracks like “Bone Cave Escape” and “Nothing to Come” adding a King Crimson influence to the stoner vibes. Guitarist Mads Melvold’s riffs and solos remain strong, and his vocals remain weak. His singing reaches for the bellowing grandeur of Mastodon’s Troy Sanders; kudos to the man for going raw dog and presenting himself without much production trickery, but too often he comes across as strained and reedy. The album’s chaotic, disjointed feel probably reflects the challenges of its creation–the band started writing the album before Sletner’s death, and they clearly struggled to find their footing after his loss. With Paleolithic War Crimes, Saint Karloff delivers a slab of decent but unexceptional stoner jams, a disappointment indeed after the high-wire act that was Interstellar Voodoo.

You can feel Saint Karloff casting about for a revised identity on Paleolithic War Crimes. The act even welcomes Ole Sletner’s brother Eivind into the fold as a full-time member responsible for lyrics and design. Unfortunately, the passing of Ole seems to have left a hole in the bands’ hearts and in their music. There’s plenty happening on this new slab but the ideas rarely flow together. You’ll find swaggering stoner anthems here a la Wo Fat (“Psychedelic Man”, “Blood Meridian”), the aforementioned prog-inflected jams, and even a heavy blooz cover of Blind Gary Davis’s “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” But there’s no thrill to be found in the stylistic shifts, just a halting sense of ideas left half-explored. There’s even a sense of incompleteness; with one song (“Among Stone Columns”) an awkwardly placed instrumental interlude and another a cover of an exhaustively-covered blues anthem, Paleolithic War Crimes often feels like it doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be.

Saint Karloff finds moments to shine, even while they navigate the low tides of conceptual drift. “Bone Cave Escape” weaves many of the band’s competing elements into a dynamic six-minute affair that sums up everything they do well. “Blood Meridian” is a more conventional ripper that brings big Uncle Acid vibes. There’s just not enough good stuff here to make Paleolithic War Crimes a candidate for repeat listens. Interstellar Voodoo did something vital and surprising with the all-fucked-out tropes of stonerdoomoccultrock. This new one is often content to wallow in those cliches, even as the lyrics occasionally reach for something more profound. There’s enough talent here to make these forty-one minutes go down easy, but it’s sad to see Saint Karloff take such a big step backward.

Ferox abstains from the green stuff–once I got over the novelty of paying for weed with a credit card in a clean and well-regulated establishment, the charms of having the munchies as a grown-up wore off quickly. Even so, I remain vulnerable to the charms of a well-done slab of stoner. I was rooting for Saint Karloff to continue finding novel and fun things to say with a pretty tired subgenre, especially when I learned the band lost an important member. I’ll stay tuned to this trio in the hope they find a vital path forward in the wake of their loss, but Paleolithic War Crimes isn’t it.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Majestic Mountain Records
Websites: saintkarloff.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/SaintKarloff
Releases Worldwide: June 2, 2023

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