Sudden and unexpected death, or rather the trauma of loss, has a way of freezing time and shaking loose even the most focused mind. The nature of man presents two viable options: To go into mental and/or spiritual remission, or to press-and-prod one’s way through the blur that grief presents. When the rhythmic thunder of Erik Herzog passed into the aethyr in late 2016 he left in his wake not only half of the pre-production of ‘Trough’ but the other two thirds of righteously heavy Los Angeles, California psychedelic doom metal band Moab. Indebted to, and with respect for, their missing structural guide Moab decided to finish ‘Trough’ as both tribute to Herzog and with admirable responsibility for the more than worthy unfinished material. Having materialized somewhere in the desert previous to their self-titled demo in 2009, Moab play a distinct form of psychedelic metal that has long rooted its existence in the ‘heavy psych’ of the late 60’s and the formative pre-doom metal underground of the mid-70’s all while while fully cognizant of the post-2000’s landscape of stoner metal and desert rock sensibilities. Their third full-length ‘Trough’ represents an accelerant driven combustion of traditional doom metal and a generous tab of bounding acid-rocked psychedelia.
To say that the bigger picture has changed little since Moab‘s full-length debut, ‘Ab Ovo’ (2011), hold some water in terms of meta impressions given. Big gnarly doom riffs, a healthy ‘Sabotage’-meets-Torche groove, and a harmony-driven stoner jam feeling a la The Obsessed and Trouble in the tradition of early 90’s stoner metal revive the Moab experience after the sleepy ‘Billow’ (2014). If you happened upon ‘Billow’ thanks to the Scion A/V Presents series, which has dried up beyond 2016 or so, you might be expecting something far more stoned and a touch less hard than ‘Trough’ is. If you see the chain gang of influence between Trouble‘s ’90-’95 Rick Rubin redirection, the ‘big leagues’ post-Vitus Wino roll of The Obsessed in that same time frame leading towards revived interest in Pentagram that’d stoke the fires of doom towards the early days of bands like Goatess, Earthride and Pale Divine. Yet Moab aren’t such a pure doom metal experience either, with a sound closer to ‘…And the Circus Leaves Town’ than ‘Flowers of Disease’ depending what part of the album you’re spinning despite the “Forever My Queen”-like impression you might get from early tracks like “Into the Sea Swine”. The blurring between modern psychedelic rock influences and classic doom metal is inspired but won’t necessarily floor the dedicated genre hound.
With Herzog‘s passing, guitarist/vocalist (and oftentimes recording engineer) Andrew Giacumakis steps in for most of Side B’s drum performances with an equal split between the album’s ten tracks; The experience is remarkably more-or-less seamless and certainly no less tight. As with ‘Billow’ Moab generally acted as a four piece in the recording studio with former bassist Casey Barclay providing additional background vocals and bass tracks along with bassist Joe Fuentes also providing extra guitar tracks coinciding with Giacumakis‘ performances. The creative collective responsibility for seeing ‘Trough’ to completion deserves some credit as they went above and beyond just ‘making it work’, instead fine-tuning a solid psychedelic doom metal record in the face of tragedy. It appears as a celebration of life’s ultimate realities rather than a glowering resignation to depression in hopeless times. I appreciate that Moab haven’t gone full-bore downer, at least. It is a well-rounded spin in terms of mood and movement.
The opener “Skeptics Lament” offers such a bold set of ideas that are energetic and ambitious beyond expectation. An almost Floyd-ian wail-and-stomp (a la Snail) intro groans in before boogieing into familiar modern stoner/doom tensions until a bridge breaks things up masterfully in the last third of the song. The weight of these dynamics becomes more valuable when the full album is considered. Each track on Side A is meticulously packed with melodic ideas that come with the ease of a mid-to-late 90’s stoner rock band like Terra Firma but the rolling heaviness of an Ozzy-toned doom project like Goatess. That is to say the ride is heavy but never drags thanks to rant, refrain, and riff all offering a memorable and varied full listen. I found myself consistently zoning out towards the end of Side B, taking a deeper breath during “Turnin’ Slow”. ‘Trough’ might’ve benefited from closing with it as the spin feels ‘over’ at that point despite always feeling gratitude for the rousing-yet-reflective end that “Fend For Dawn” provides. The main source of the album’s face value from my perspective is in the successful crossing of stoner/psychedelic rock and lighter traditional doom metal elements. Without surprising melodic breaks, big riffs, and a wealth of clever transitional moments it’d be a roughly average stoner metal album. Moderately high recommendation for the big riffs and the resilient spirit of the music. For preview I’d go straight to the ballsy hit of “Into the Sea Swine”, the dredging mood of “The Onus”, and the combination of those elements on “Fifty Thousand Tons”.
For the mind’s unrest. 4.0/5.0
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