1968: the year following the Summer of Love, and the year before I was born. It’s 50 years ago now of course, and the Cheshire quartet bearing that year as its name is steeped in the Proto sound of that era. Having relentlessly gigged and released two EPs since their 2013 inception, Ballads of the Godless (HeviSike) is the band’s first foray into long-playing territory.
‘DevilSwine’ opens the album in indolent yet weighty fashion, Jimi Ray’s vocal slightly oscillating, a bluesy Doom riff growling yet agile. The warm, heady atmosphere is pierced by a howling solo and an utterly leveling rhythm section, with the whole creating an irresistibly sexy groove. ‘Screaming Sun’ has a slower but harder vibe, Ray’s whiskey-soaked roar as memorable as the subtle switches in tempo, delicate leadwork and the first hint of Psychedelic warbles.
Everything about Ballads… screams “Retro” and delightfully so. ‘Temple of the Acidwolf’ has an Eastern feel, that fluid rhythm still dragging monuments, the air thick with desert sand and seedy sin.
The brief ‘SJD’ combines acoustic guitar with piano to create an edgy, Simon and Garfunkel-esque interlude before the lysergic influence returns with ‘Chemtrail Blues’, a low-slung, dirty howler, Ray’s lilt and Sam Orr’s gorgeous leads acting as a light and seductive accompaniment to the fizzing, bass-heavy background.
Arguably the album’s highlight, ‘McQueen’ blends Kula:Shaker, Verve and Soundgarden in a strange yet wonderful pot. Reeking of delicious poison, the delivery ranges from eerily hypnotic to full-on crush reminiscent of the latter’s ‘Hands All Over’, with Ray doing a passable Cornell impression. ‘The Hunted’ blends those early Soundgarden waves with a slightly prosaic yet enjoyable rut, Dan Amati’s phenomenal stickwork and a sinister finale which segues into closer ‘Mother of God’: a slow-burning howl, Ray’s spectral laze drifting over a dull coda.
…which is a shame as it means that the two weakest tracks on the album lay it to sleep. “Filler” accusations aside, there’s a shedload of promise here, and it remains a fun experience for those of us who like to lose ourselves in reverie and acid-tinged, monolithic grooves.