I don’t do well in the heat. This n00b is a strictly cold-weather creature. Despite this, I do very much enjoy stoner-desert rock. I’ve done so ever since I first encountered Kyuss’ seminal Welcome to Sky Valley. So imagine my excitement when the promo bin – manifesting in the ominous shape of Steel Druhm – threw me Blue Skies Back to Gray, the debut album from Italian stoners Sons of Lazareth. Formed in 2014, Sons promised me a slab of ‘heavy desert rock,’ citing influences such as Kyuss, Fu Manchu and Mastodon among a great many others (rather unexpectedly including Devin Townsend). This, I thought, rubbing my nicely chilled hands together, is going to be good.
“Palm Desert’s Blues” begins Blue Skies on a very promising note, offering languid, bluesy chords, building to a nice Kyuss-esque riff. This (admittedly short) opening number sets the scene reasonably well for what follows: a fairly solid piece of desert rock, with some heavier, stoner cuts. Sons of Lazareth mix up the pacing of the album nicely, ranging from the aforementioned opener to the Elder-conjuring album highlight “Beautiful Haze.” In between, you’ll find some galloping tunes and meatier riffs (“Escape to Nowhere”), and mid-paced Queens of the Stone Age-influenced numbers, such as “Punctually Late” and “Vultures.” The rhythm section – comprising Marcello Pinna on bass and Marco Gambarini on drums – is in solid form and, thanks to the production, you hear every note. Sometimes, however, the prominence in the mix of the drums and bass is at the expense of the guitars. This is a shame because for the most part Leonardo Riccioni and Alessandro D’Amato’s riffs are decent, with a nice heft to them.
Sons of Lazareth do come up short in two departments. The first is vocals. This is not because D’Amato cannot sing, he undoubtedly can. In fact, his clean singing voice is good – particularly in sections of “Vultures” and “Hallee Road.” Though he’s no John Garcia, he has talent, but his singing feels underutilized. The real issue is the sheer number of vocal styles employed by D’Amato that he can’t actually pull off. On the heavier numbers his voice sounds strained as he tries to keep pace, leading to some strangled screams and underweight bellows, the latter reminiscent of Clutch’s Neil Fallon, but lacking in his depth.
The second, and more important area where Sons of Lazareth come up short is originality. The problem is that there’s very little on Blue Skies that we haven’t heard before, save perhaps for an effect on “Escape to Nowhere,” where the song stutters with interference as though a radio station is cutting in, which initially made me think my very expensive headphones were malfunctioning. This lack of originality is, in part, a problem of the band’s own making. Due to the sheer number of bands they name-check, I found myself picking out who they were channeling at any given moment… with the exception of Devin Townsend, of whom I detect no trace.
Given the promo description and cited influences, I went into Sons of Lazareth’s debut hoping for the sort of creativity and originality seen, for example, on Dvne’s excellent Asheran. I didn’t get it. Blue Skies Back to Gray is a solid piece of desert-tinged stoner rock but that’s all. Sons are talented musicians and find their stride in places, with some chunky riffs and a bass groove that will undoubtedly have you nodding along. But, for an album seemingly four years in the making, this is ultimately disappointing. Should I find myself stranded in a desert, there are a couple of songs I might chuck onto a playlist for the long drive out, but that’s about it.