Smokey Mirror – Smokey Mirror Review

Ah, the self-titled debut. Always a good start to your legacy as a new band. Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath are the obvious examples, but it remains a popular choice well into this century as evidenced by the legendary Taylor Swift. It’s not enough to carve out a legacy on its own though. A proper label goes a long way to rise above the middling plebs, and Smokey Mirror comes out strong with the backing of Rise Above Records. All the ducks are in a row for these Texan proto-metal newbies.

Thankfully, these proverbial ducks include such secondary characteristics as songwriting and skill, because Smokey Mirror is a well-rounded chunk of exuberant fuzz-rock, reminding me in many ways of Kaleidobolt and, occasionally, The Atomic Bitchwax. The songs ramble past at breakneck speed, as if the timeshare on the garage is running out and the band has to get all their psych rock in the can before it does. The smoke of the 70’s wafts thickly as the band blazes through old-school ragers or compresses 25-minute Allman Brothers jams into 8-minute packages. The only breather is a mid-album minute of jaunty harmonica, amusingly titled “Fried Vanilla Spider Trapeze.”

With such exploratory compositions, the album stands or falls with the quality of the musicians. Employing a setup with two guitars and no keys, Smokey Mirror wastes no time demonstrating its skills. For all its playfulness, opener “Invisible Hand” has a lot of intricate guitarwork, not to mention a fun and dynamic interplay with the excellent, rousing drums. The band walks a tightrope between overly jammy and overly predictable, a balance that it nails on this track. Further on, the songwriting sometimes leans a bit too safe (“Pathless Forest”) or a bit too aimless (“Magick Circle”), and there’s numerous little scuff-marks like abrupt song endings, but the sheer craftsmanship of the performances is plenty to keep the music from becoming boring or annoying. The exception is the vocals. Rough, nasal and slightly pinched, they’re serviceable at best, largely saved by enthusiasm, but the electronic warble they suffer on a few tracks should have remained in the cupboard of bad ideas.

Still, in spite of these demerits, Smokey Mirror effortlessly stays on the right side of the scale. Doing a lot with a little seems to be the band’s motto, and they blast through an endless array of moods, hooks, layers and tempos with an earnestness that leaves no room for pretense. “Sacrifical Altar” changes its pacing dramatically 5 or 6 times and never feels like the band is not in control, even as its solos gradually quadruple in speed. Their authenticity is underlined by the classic production. The buzzing twang of the bass gets almost as much spotlight as the guitar, and the drums are bona fide classic, with every dragging roll on the snare outlined in stark honesty. This is what 70’s psych jams should sound like: straight out of the garage, blowing you away with sheer skill, not hiding behind infinite layers of reverb.

For a new band, Smokey Mirror is a certified blast from the past. Unpredictable, energetic, and always entertaining, this self-titled debut thrives on the strength of its musicians who serve up a wealth of fun riffs, nitro-infused solos, funky bass-lines, and fantastic drums. The trio will jam the night away at Mach 4 and leave you air-drumming with a silly grin plastered on your face. There’s little marks all over the record, and the vocals could use a boost and a clean-up, but Smokey Mirror is brimming with far too much glee to care about such imperfections.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rise Above Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 5th, 2023

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