I’ll be honest, 2017 has been tough on Huck N Roll so far. It seems like every promo I open says “Black Metal,” or “Death Metal,” or “Brutal Blackened Death Metal,” all of which make my sphincter tighten and send me back to my knitting, losing hope by the minute that something softer on my olde ears will eventually arrive. So I wasn’t holding out much hope when I landed on Vermilion Whiskey, but the promo blurb had promise. Hard-rocking stoner metal from the Louisiana bayou stripped bare and played loud. Sound familiar? Yes, Down fans, I’m looking at you, and like you I’m hoping this album, Spirit of Tradition, can approximate the NOLA-era band of yore.
Spirit of Tradition is a short album, six songs spanning less than half an hour. So it’s not a huge time sink to dig my teeth into this. The opening track “Road King” has a very garage-band feel, exemplified by what at first listen is horrible singing. I’m sure this is one of those situations where the band drew straws and the guy with the shortest was forced to sing, but no, Vermilion Whiskey is actually a five-piece with a dedicated singer. Ugh. But let’s take a minute to ignore the singing and focus on the song. It’s a driving rocker with 70s-style riffing and a fairly rote arrangement. It’s okay, but nothing more, and with only five more tracks things are looking grim.
Luckily, “The Past is Dead” kicks in with a great riff and killer guitar tone, definitely hearkening back to Pepper Keenan’s tones on NOLA. It’s a lumbering beast of a song with three distinct riffs, and – get this – better vocals. Still not awesome, and after two songs I can tell vocalist Thaddeus Riordan and his bourbon-soaked singing is the weak link here. He gives it all he’s got, but he ain’t got much. These songs deserve better because, aside from “Road King,” Vermilion Whiskey pummels us with genuine sludgy southern-fried metal. “Come Find Me” is a sweet variation on Down’s “Eyes of the South,” at least to start with, and goddamn the guitar tones are wicked, while “Monolith” slows the pace down but not the grit. “One Night” is an odd duck, sounding like a nasty Black Crowes take, but it works well.
Spirit of Tradition gets some help on the production side from interesting sources. Wo Fat’s Kent Stump mixed the album, and Tony Reed from Mos Generator mastered the disc. Both did a commendable job, especially considering the style of music and questionable vocals. I’ve mentioned a few times that the band has killer guitar tone, and Stump mixes the bass and drums in a style perfectly befitting the music – raw, authentic, very live-sounding, as if most of the recording was done in one take. Reed eased up on the loudness of the master – not that this kind of music needs space for breath and dynamics, but the dirt and punch of the songs come through with flying colors.
I’ve listened to this record a lot. Being only six songs, one can play the hell out of it in a short amount of time, and I find myself enjoying it. Yeah, the vocals range from mediocre to appalling, but the songs and the sound make up for that. It’s not NOLA, but it’s not dreck either. Good production and mixing, along with five pretty good songs, don’t put Spirit of Tradition on the road to greatness, but Vermilion Whiskey did manage to serve up an entertaining distraction from the “Blackened Brutal Death Metal” I’ve been seeing load up my inbox lately [When do I get my new scarf? – Steel Druhm].