Ah, stoner metal. My go-to when I want something light and fluffy that won’t offend people I hold hostage invite to my barbecue on hot summer nights. Most of the time, stoner metal is the epitome of average. It’s below the great but above the bad, bathwater that’s neither too hot nor too cold, a big-screen TV that’s not 4K. I have yet to review a total dud of a stoner metal release, but when you somehow catch something that winds up being your Album of the Year, you’re encouraged to keep hunting for more greatness. Worshipper mine the depths of stoner metal on Light in the Wire, the Boston quartet’s sophomore release. They hope to add a few wrinkles to a genre that’s otherwise pretty cut-and-dried, but will it be enough to elevate them to the upper echelons of rock, or are they destined to land in the also-ran bin?
Worshipper aim to stand out by infusing the standard stoner metal template with elements of classic rock and 80s metal. Smatterings of UFO and Scorpions influence help make some songs earwormingly enticing, but not all. “Coming Through” opens the album in a very nonchalant way, with one of the least interesting riffs of the year. The song’s seven-minute length does it (and us) no favors, but it also introduces us to John Brookhouse, who has a great, laid-back voice. Brookhouse sounds like he would be equally at home laying it down with a desert rock band or a classic rock band, and he helps prop up the weaker material (the opening and closing songs, both of which drag on in unmemorable fashion) with his magnetic delivery. And speaking of weaker material, depending on your personal preferences, the Muse-like nature of the title track may or may not work.
Thankfully, these weaker numbers are offset by some equally strong tracks. “Wither on the Vine” is stellar. It begins in very Black Sabbath fashion, with a lumbering, doomy riff, but soon morphs into a great, shuffling monster with harmonized riffs, a sweet bass line, and great vocal melodies. The song is nearly as long as “Coming Through,” but keeps us glued to the speakers the entire time. Second single “It All Comes Back” would be perfectly at home on the latest hard-rocking John Garcia album. The juxtaposition of the driving, up-tempo rhythm and Brookhouse’s almost-croon can make for a great concoction. And “Visions from Beyond” is a fascinatingly psychedelic number, where the band showcases their ability to jam with ease—but also to drop memorable riffs in our lap.
Much like the bookend songs, the production of Light in the Wire is simply “okay.” Brookhouse’s vocals are front and center, and there is some strong guitar interplay that is also highlighted. The rhythm section plays with appropriate groove and swagger for this kind of music, but Dave Jarvis’s compulsion to go full-on Alex Van Halen gets supremely annoying. There’s hardly a moment on the entire album when he’s not hitting a crash cymbal. Nobody has ever told Dave that less is more. Well, Dave, it’s true. Let the others play sometimes. At least his cymbal work is muffled more than Van Halen’s ever was, and he does play with plenty of feel: lack of talent is not an issue.
Light in the Wire isn’t a dud, and it isn’t list-worthy. Annoying cymbals aside, the musicianship is in the upper tier, but skipping three or four songs on an eight song album, no matter how good the rest are, is a detriment. More songs like “Wither on the Vine” and “Nobody Else,” more killer riffs and catchy choruses, and Worshipper could easily put together a winner. The rating might not be out of this world, but the best songs on Light in the Wire have left enough of an impression on me that I’ll be keeping tabs on these guys in the future.