Collaboration has long been the downfall of the underground musician as the historical answer to “what ever happened to…?” is often a laundry list of what could go wrong in a working relationship dependent upon engaged investment between young folks in their formative adult years. Egos develop, tastes change, drugs, kids, deaths, injuries, and education all mount quickly and that’d be looking on the brighter spectrum of possibilities. So many fantastic solo projects and single musician curated/written groups dominate the landscape of rock and heavy metal music because they appear so driven and so consistently stylized thanks to little to no outside input. The art of the four piece metal band working hand-in-hand to produce memorable and damned heavy music would appear to be slowly dying as self-direction creates exemplar releases that release in droves on a weekly clip. San José, Costa Rica psychedelic doom/sludge metal band Age of the Wolf are keen to work as a true communal effort as they rise steadily into view. Formed in 2015 and a bit of a typical stoner metal band out the gates with their self-titled EP in 2017, the quartet have grown into a mind-bending storm of modern sludge and brutal stoner doom so quickly that ‘Ouroboric Trances’ will shock most listeners; No doubt that great leap of style and sincerity comes from not only working together but working well together.
The goal is simply stated and immediately clear as Age of the Wolf kick into opener “Herald of Abyssos”, they’re out to write memorable heavy music that each of the band members can relate to and ‘feel’ enough to invest in. Now from that description and knowing my own tastes well enough you shouldn’t be surprised that when I talk about taste two of these folks come from some of Costa Rica’s finest death metal bands past-and-present. Guitarist and vocalist Christopher de Haan was involved in Corpse Garden for a handful of years and bassist/vocalist Jorge Camacho is currently a key member of otherworldly tormentors Bloodsoaked Necrovoid. Not only do both contribute harsh death metal vocals but each add to a wildly varied harmonization alongside second guitarist and third vocalist Beto Ramirez. Much like Deadbird‘s most recent album the varied vocal ranges and harmonization between them allows Age of the Wolf to cover an enormous range of styles that’ll resonate with doom, sludge, death, and even post-metal listeners. It’ll never feel like a ‘kitchen sink’ record but an oddly full range attack for a band just starting out.
The goal to remain memorable and heavy throughout is still achieved yet some of the thrill of ‘Ouroboric Trances’ comes from the oft complex progressive sludge metal influences they wear boldly. Those twisted, doomed prog-sludge rhythms have an organic and spacious feeling thanks to the ‘live in studio’ performances that captured the albums rhythmic bulk as a unit. This adds to the over the top fuzz-soaked layers of guitars and multiple vocal tracks and gives Age of the Wolf a lumbering and feral sort of presence that isn’t so much compressed but, gaseous and full. I’d like to suggest that this is just a free-wheeling standard stoner doom/sludge metal affair but ‘Ouroboric Trances’ is something slightly bigger and farther reaching than that, there is an almost death/doom quality to their sound that’ll quickly draw in fans of mid-era Yob and the heavier side of Electric Wizard but at least half of the record is pushing air that’ll perk the ears of Elder and Pallbearer listeners with blended psychedelic doom and prog-sludge moments. There is a smart give-and-take between these elements of complexity and tripped-out abandon that are woven together with a finesse that doesn’t lose that stoner rock/metal spirit Age of the Wolf had come with originally. In this sense ‘Ouroboric Trances’ is an elevation just high enough that it is hard to see their past but they’re not lost in the clouds entirely.
Their style is hip, their sub-genre hooks are righteous, and they can go from stoner death sludge to progressive psychedelic doom at the drop of a hat… So, where does the balance exist in this tumbling euphoria of stoned bodies? ‘Ouroboric Trances’ is front-loaded and comes with its best material on Side A leaving Side B merely average by comparison and this leaves the full listening experience one of diminishing interest. The endorphin rush of the opener Tribulation-esque guitar work, the neon death and Sabbath-ian glow of “Unholy”, and the soul-stirring rush of “Goliath” all wield such power in their succession. The rhythmic instrumental jam of “The Crimson Penitence” provides a break at the mid-point and then it’d seem like the bristling early Red Fang-esque “Goddess of the Hunt” is the last really impactful piece on the record for my own taste. The rest of the spin isn’t filler but a series of ideas that feel more like experiments or ‘fun’ takes that ease up on an album that could appear quite serious at first glance. I like that this first full-length from the band isn’t a ‘perfect’ embodiment of their vision because it means there is room to grow in every direction. What we are given with this offering is professional, memorable, inspired, and all the more interesting for its collaborative spirit. Highly recommended. For preview I’d say don’t pass by any of the first three tracks but bare minimum give “Herald of Abyssos” and “Goliath” a try to see how versatile Age of the Wolf are in their commendable state of growth.
The all is one. 4.0/5.0
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