Stone Healer – Conquistador Review

First impressions are everything. Most of the time, we decide what sort of band we are dealing with and whether we should keep listening within the first 30 seconds of exposure to a new record. In the case of Stone Healer, a project by Connecticut brothers Matt (drums) and Dave (everything except drums) Kaminsky, you would hear some off-beat acoustic strumming leading into a simple, light and fuzzy riff, overlaying the characteristic pok pok pok of a cowbell, and a clean but unsteady vocal performance which seems to prefer personality over technical proficiency. All that would lead one to conclude the outfit specialize in desert rock, perhaps stoner metal, of the bog-standard variety. You’d be wrong, as the sudden but swift descent into discordant tremolo riffs will demonstrate. Stone Healer is a lot of things. Standard is not one of them.

The central thesis forming Stone Healer’s impressive debut is this: how does one cross-breed the warm fuzz of stoner with the cold lacerations of black metal? The answer is manifold and not easily summarized. The songwriting is absolutely wild, frequently thriving upon a nightmare train-of-thought flow, flying from reflective melancholy to gnawing discordance and back. While ordinarily the guitar tones of stoner and black metal could not be further apart, Conquistador gets around that by avoiding over-applying its fuzz and evoking the feeling of black metal with traces of dissonance and aggressive tremolo. Furthermore, the record is frequently given to technical excess, with whirling guitars that start and stop on a dime, and drums that turn into raging spasmodic avalanches. Yet the next moment, the record may sail right into the eye of the storm and take a moment of quiet contemplation. It’s an experiment that should not work as well as it does.

And it may not do so for everyone, because Conquistador is certainly not an easy record. The mood whiplash is enough do drive you mental, and few songs have the courtesy to leave you a handhold, with opener “One Whisper” being the most polite in this regard, functioning as a rabbit hole of sorts for the true madness, although the lengthy “Surrender” sees some parts of its relentless flow recurring as well. Yet for all its deliberate inconsistencies, there is no loss of unity across the 7 tracks. When your songwriting shirks traditional structures, the flow needs to be impeccable, and that it largely is, even when a number of transitions are deliberately sudden, written to throw you off. In spite of its intensity and complexity, it’s an easy record to listen to repeatedly, and it has many interesting details that make such retreads worthwhile.

As it is such a tricky record, it’s practically inevitable some things are going to rub some people the wrong way. If I am to predict any consensus here, it’s going to be the vocals. Dave is an enviable instrumentalist, and he’s not a bad singer per se, but he is far less consistent on the mic. His clean vocals follow the usual pattern of stoner metal: slightly nasal, lazily enunciated, and with his pitch occasionally glancing off the right notes (particularly when pushing for a higher one), though he does show the ability to project a decent amount of power on his best moments. His harsh vocals are not classic black metal screeching; instead they sound like actual ragged screaming from the throat. It’s rough and uneven, and sounds a bit painful to perform, but the style is not inappropriate for the music at hand, which makes this easier to forgive.

Other than that, and a rather dull and sudden ending to the album, there’s not much to complain about on Conquistador. It’s a unique genre mixture and a completely idiosyncratic sound, and the duo bravely jumped in with both feet. It’s suitably rough around the edges, and certainly not an easy album to listen to or qualify. But Stone Healer is unflinchingly original, exciting to the core, and rarely have I been this thrilled to see where the band is going to take its sound next. This is the kind of trailblazing I love from an unsigned debut. Get on this.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: April 30th, 2021

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