In arriving upon a luxuriously occult heavy rock sound between several EP releases and an acclaimed full-length debut Athens, Greece quartet Bus the Unknown Secretary would appear to have signaled clear enough to see from orbit that they’d be landing within any decade of influence they’d see fit going forward. Their second full-length ‘Never Decide’ shirks the rainy gloom of late 70’s proto-doom and early 80’s NWOBHM melodies to some degree; Instead they’re found crisping in the Los Angeles adjacent desert sun of the 90’s on a vision quest for those most-high stoner-doom vibes beyond. That isn’t to say they’re not still Bus but, the first thing you’ll notice out of the gate is an atmospheric freedom that moves one step beyond occult heavy metal kitsch into the bigger league of classic doom metal influenced heavy rock.
‘Never Decide’ still serves that retro freakout you want from a RidingEasy release but they’re doing it with a pivot away from their previous work. “You Better Come In, You Better Calm Down” has that mid-70’s heavy rock crispness, as if the vinyl ambiance were baked in, and this’ll be a bit misleading in terms of overall tonality. It isn’t long before the Pentagram and Witchfinder General you’re expecting resolves with a bit of early Kyuss, the buzz of classic Sleep, and a raw songwriting sense of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. Sounding quite a bit like Demon Eye‘s ‘Tempora Infernalia’ were it a bit more focused on the First Daze Here side of things there are several surprises as ‘Never Decide’ spins out; The first is “I Buried Paul” an LSD-soaked occult psychedelic rock epic, I assume in reference to an old Beatles death hoax, that immediately gives Side A more character than expected. Side B leads with perhaps the strongest doom metal track on the album with the Demon Head-esque “Lucifer”, a nearly nine minute swaying of the head in séance with the master. Therein you’ve experienced the sort of evolutionary pairing in mind that bridges the skin deep occult hokum of the 70’s with the more seriously afflicted depth of present day throwbacks.
What stood out most when taking a closer look at Bus‘ second full-length soon became its tonal variety, not so much its actual sound but the shift in vocal inflection, guitar arrangements and mood from song to song. ‘Never Decide’ is much darker than you’d expect, based off of appearances at least, and perhaps even when considering the album that came before it. Established fans shouldn’t worry too much about a few decidedly sun-worshiping hard rockers as the majority of this record is heavier and gloomier than ‘The Unknown Secretary’ when you dig deeper into its lyrics and emphasize those doom-oriented moments. Bus are definitely a band you could compare to a hundred others yet they don’t sound exactly like any one of them. They’ve at least got the songwriting skill to stand out among so many others.
There are certainly more compelling ‘genre’ entry records coming in 2019 and several nail that 70’s heavy rock meets classic 80’s doom feeling a bit harder but, I’d stress what Bus (and Deathchant) has in droves that many peers do not: A sense of the full listening experience, a varied approach to songwriting, and a tracklist that never begins to feel redundant. There may not be anything mind-blowing about their sound but the above-average status comes from what they do with it. In translating raw ‘retro’ sound into exceptional heavy rock songs that string together beautifully Bus deliver a modern take on old sounds with an informed edge. I can highly recommend ‘Never Decide’ not because it surprised me as a follow up to its predecessor but because it was easily repeated, and entirely void of filler. Highly recommended. For preview I’d say doom hounds should go for “Lucifer” and “The Hunt” whereas the stoners should jump on the opener as well as the freakery of “I Buried Paul”.
The colors from your window. 4.0/5.0
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