FOOT – The Balance of Nature Shifted [Vinyl] (2020)REVIEW

Either we decide to manage our own numbers, to avoid a collision of every line on civilization’s graph – or nature will do it for us, in the form of famines, thirst, climate chaos, crashing ecosystems, opportunistic disease, and wars over dwindling resources that finally cut us down to size.” — Despite an intense focus on environmentalism having been deep-ingrained since my youth it wasn’t until I’d read author and field journalism specialist Alan Weisman‘s The World Without Us, (2007) that true cynicism had ever truly landed upon me, the first time I’d ever truly felt like a hapless amoeba in a shit-filled swimming pool. It might’ve been a thought experiment built from a pop science article, and it’d surely been discarded by many because of it, but the book stirred enough like-minded folks into a sort of microcosm of existential nihilistic thought: How will overpopulation kill us all, is there a humane way to curb human population, and how -beautiful- will Earth be once we’re all fully dead? The presupposition or, suggestion that the best avenue is to curb all human populations globally (else nature will do it for us) is especially frightening to most as the “free” mind naturally considers tools of genocide and/or repression of personal freedoms to reach that goal; Limited family size, sterilization, viral warfare etc. all offensive barbarism and in opposition of the limitless manifest destiny mindset afforded to current generations of wealth and power, who are perhaps too distanced from their own benefit from murderous colonialism to ever feel grief, backwards or going forth. There isn’t a reasonable endpoint that’ll ever likely reach consensus in time so, the takeaway from the book back in 2007 saw me leaning into the idea that nature will decide for us — It will come in ceaseless and absolutely deserved waves of brutal suffering. Yet none of this ponderous existential dread on my part comes directly from the mouths of Melbourne, Australia’s Foot on their third full-length ‘The Balance of Nature Shifted‘, rather their gloomy stoner-metallic psychedelic desert rock tunes inspire it with themes of frustration within the trampling herd headed off a cliff, seeing the tragic eyes of our natural world suffering an avoidable and well-presaged mass extinction at an inspired pace.

It is just a thought, though, not the entire theme of the album. We’re talking about stoner rock, fuzz-driven post-Kyuss guitar creeps, early 90’s grunge rock influenced vocal harmonies, and well… The kind of stuff that the insufferably perma-stoned heavy rock weed hounds will insist sounds like Alice in Chains, though it clearly doesn’t — Catherine Wheel, at best and for sure let’s us not forget the extended lives of Snail beyond the 90’s and perhaps even recent Hum would find closer general compare with Foot in mind than any manner of Seattle flannel idol. Lofty comparisons are justified though, as the welcoming arrangements and hum-along heavy rock movements come by way of the multi-talented Paul Holden who functions as frontman, main performer, composer, and creative director for the four-man Foot clan. His sensibilities are absolutely 90’s in motion, Big Muff‘d but not arena-sized, bringing the loud-quiet-loud formulae into the earthly delights of decades-aged stoner rock evolution. It’d all be a bit average as dreamy, ultra-heavy and buzzing psych rock a la fellow Australians Holy Serpent without the distinction that a healthy dose of screamin’ desert rock style brings as a helpful anthemic driver. ‘The Balance of Nature Shifted’ is effects-soaked and easy-grooving stuff, likely a sound that’ll be no surprise for folks hitting stoner rock on the daily but with some additional crossover appeal for stoner/psychedelic doom metal fandom.

Holden is an earnest performer who believably expresses the sentiment attached to each piece he writes and this ends up being no small feat with ‘desert rock’ in mind, a realm where emotion builds (if at all) within groove and generally subtle heavy blues motions. What does the album mean to express? There is no one singular pillar being dragged about but the major goal of the experience is suggested “to acknowledge your emotions, feel them and react to them in a healthy way.” This implies a supportive, cathartic, and encouraging presence that the album generally delivers. The idea that things have changed (worldwide) for the worse and that a slippery slope towards cheapening human life is not only visible but harrowing enough to be debilitating for some. Anyone aging out of their twenties understands this feeling on a basal level, change is hastening and choices begin to feel heavier with each step taken. “Despair on Hope Street” is the most obvious embodiment of this characteristic, both in its lyrical component and general mood which steers from powerful gloom toward hopeful, anthemic quality. From my point of view the hooks dig in here and don’t let loose for at least 3-4 songs with “E-Sports” being the bigger grunge-era rocker with a chorus that offers the most satisfying tension release on the full listen. That said, “Ride It Out” is the apex of my own interest and the highlight of Side A for its lyrical significance and perhaps the extra meaning they’ve taken on during this year of disease, unrest and tyranny.

The hits don’t let up from there and the record continues to be mercilessly catchy, stoney, and nuanced yet I’d felt some exhaustion with the format and running order being entirely too straight forward. We arrive in the clouds, we leave Foot in the clouds, and considering the breadth of Holden‘s solo work this record never feels like it throws all of the cards on the table despite its ~49 minute length. Some manner of variation, experimentation, or differentiation of experience delineating the two sides, or invigorating the second half, might’ve taken a good album all the way up to greatness or nearby. That said, with the context of Foot‘s entire discography in mind ‘The Balance of Nature Shifted’ is a major leap on a few fronts: The production values are bigger, warmer, and arranged to great effect with the guitar tones being particularly heavy without going fully stoner metal along the way. The crunch of the guitars and the moodiness of the full listen is best expressed by “Break The Altar (Light-Shade)”, not only for the clever vocal arrangements within but their lacing through the grind of the guitars. It sounds more clever in motion than it reads, at least. Beyond that, the mastering from Audiosiege (who’d worked on all three records thus far) feels like a cleaner boost beyond the previous album (‘Buffalo‘, 2017) giving some power to the drums while letting the vocal layers overpower when resonance is needed. In terms of what makes the vinyl edition special enough to purchase and wait ~2-3 months for the Australian post to go through, I’d say the stunning wave of overgrowth encroaching upon a city by way of Jo Riou is a fine selling point, very sharply curated and indicative of the record itself. All of this adds up to a fine record despite there being a handful of songs that didn’t land within my own taste; The first half will be the major selling point for most but there are a few slightly more subdued moments along the way that’ll help the full listen stick over time. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 7 out of 10.
TITLE:The Balance of Nature Shifted
TYPE:Full-length [12″ vinyl]
LABEL(S):Copper Feast Records
RELEASE DATE:July 31st, 2020 [Vinyl]
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRES:Stoner/Psychedelic Rock
Heavy Psychedelic Rock

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