Volcanova – Radical Waves Review

When you see the word “Iceland” floating on the oily surface of the promo sump, your thoughts turn immediately to black metal. That’s been Iceland’s chief metal export for some time now and the scene is well regarded and expanding. You certainly wouldn’t think of that exotic locale as the home of desert stoner rock, but Volcanova is out to change that with their fuzzed out debut Radical Waves. Citing Kyuss as a chief influence, the band sets out to riff your love van through the bong zone and into the Mythical Magical Mushroom Patch that lies beyond the purple nebula. But it’s no easy feat to build a sweet leaf-fueled green machine capable of making the trip to Sky Valley and back, as many a young desert dwelling ensemble has learned. Does Volcanova have the elusive recipe for a potent demon cleaner?

The short answer is… not exactly. While the band definitely possesses swagger and attitude, Radical Waves is an inconsistent and sometimes adolescent and unpolished outing with some glaring shortcomings. That’s not to say they don’t stumble onto some positive vibes along the way. Opener “Welcome” is in fact a welcome piece of desert rock collecting with fat, Iommi-esque riffs that could have appeared on the Black Sabbath debut. This leads directly into “Where’s the Time” where Volcanova show they possess primal riff magic and can rock your pot garden when things come together. It’s like a dumbed down Kyuss mixed with Fu Manchu and it works well. Give me 45 minutes of this stuff and I’ll willingly move to Death Valley and oversee your herb crops. The magic carpet ride continues with the straight-forward rock of “Super Duper Van” which uses its rough, unrefined structure and basic riffs as weapons to batter you into a bemused submission. It’s far from great, but the sheer energy and infectious idiocy sell it nonetheless. “I’m Off” is more aggressive and heavy, sounding like Kyuss and Audrey Horne in a drunken bar fight. It’s not essential but I wouldn’t object to it playing whilst drinking beers with rowdy acquaintances. “Stoneman” is where the band come into their own. It sounds like an outtake from Corrosion of Conformity‘s Deliverance era, leveraging the same southern-fried riffage heard on “Albatross” along with some inspired jams. It’s my kind of stoner tune and a quality example of the band’s potential.

The album’s second half is where the party starts to get weird while the company grows sketchier. Songs like “Sushi Sam” and “Mountain” feel silly and insubstantial. “M.O.O.D.” is like a loving tribute to The Melvins powered by big, heavy leads and it works at first but drags on well past the point of engagement. The album ends well with the upbeat and enjoyable “Lights” which cuts through Foo Fighters and indie rock territory over its 5:49 lifespan, thereby shining a glaring spotlight on the album’s biggest problem. There’s an obvious identity crisis playing out here. Volcanova try to be too many things over the 45 minutes of Radical Waves, and they simply aren’t good at them all. If they would focus their attention on one, maybe two styles and really try to nail them, they could get somewhere good. As it stands they spread themselves too thin leaping from heavy stoner doom to silly, lightweight rock, stumbling around wildly in the process.

Samúel Ásgeirsson proves he can craft some big riffs and grooves, but his writing is inconsistent with a tendency toward overly simplistic, juvenile shtick, and the lyrics are downright awful at times. Ásgeirsson, bassist Þorsteinn Árnason and drummer Dagur Atlason lock into some formidable grooves and stomp the yard effectively on the better songs, and this makes me long for more of the good and less of the silly. Another problem is the vocals. With both Ásgeirsson and Atlason lending their voices, there’s not a lot of what I would call quality vocal moments on offer. They aren’t terrible, but neither is especially gifted. Not every desert rock act needs a John Garcia, but it never hurts either.

Radical Waves is roughly one half of a solid desert rocker with dumb chaff making up the remainder. Volcanova seem capable of doing the style justice but they need more time in the field studying the rocks and cacti before they sit back down at the writing table. And so Iceland remains icy and full of darkness, but now there’s a beat up old van loitering near the docks with smoke billowing from the windows. And there it sits – watching, waiting, smoking.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: The Sign Records
Websites: volcanova.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/volcanova |
Releases Worldwide: August 21st, 2020

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