ALBUM REVIEW: Barishi – Old Smoke

You remember the first time you heard Leviathan (Relapse Records) by Mastodon? I do. It was as if my world had shifted on its axis: a relentless display of monumental, complex power that left me unsure how to feel…except that it felt exciting, enlivening. I never thought that Vermont quartet Barishi would recreate those emotions: a great band yes, but its Harsh Stoner grooves had the intricacies without such immediate power. Suddenly, out goes vocalist Sascha Simms, being replaced by guitarist Graham Brooks and reducing the band to a three-piece. Third album Old Smoke (Season of Mist) follows. Fuck…

The atmospheric, howling agonies opening first track ‘The Silent Circle’ give way to Brooks’ apparently beefed-up riffage, the growling bass of Jonathan Kelley and the mammoth stickwork of Dylan Blake. Straightaway there’s a heavier, mightier force at work here: Brooks’ voice a more cavernous, Death-like roar than his predecessor; a few of the band’s previous progressive ingredients sacrificed for a weighty bludgeon. That said, the quirky time signatures and helter-skelter chord progressions of the leadwork and mid-section, complete with Blackened scour, show the invention still at the trio’s core.

It’s the first of three ten-minute-plus tracks to grace the album, the second being the ensuing ‘Blood Aurora’. ‘There is a darkness’ as Brooks intones, and he ain’t wrong: but more of that paradoxical, crushing flexibility calls to mind the incessant energy of New Zealand giants Ulcerate, with a more Doom-laden heart. Brooks’ guitar work here is stunning: buzzing and monstrous riffs cascading into chiming leadplay and back; while Blake’s time switches and blastbeats are spellbinding. In many ways similar to the prior track it nevertheless remains urgent, and far from exceeding its welcome it imbues a sense of hunger in the listener.

‘The Longhunter’ begins with a nerve-tingling news snippet before those nuances in approach, with terrific synchronicity, evoke further comparisons with the elephantine Georgians. Again it’s dominated by a Low-end thunder and that fearsome vocal but the dexterity here, particularly in the rhythm section and the dancing leadwork, is stunning. Similarly the switch toward atmospheric acoustics for the brief yet deep ‘Cursus Ablaze’ is gorgeous, showing some of the great and diverse forms the original unit possessed: before heading back into twisting, winding savagery with the penultimate ‘Entombed in Gold Forever’; more cascading chimes and blastbeats duelling with the imaginative ferocity of the titanic riff.

The band saves the best until last with the epic title track. Initially, it’s a return to that laid-back musicality, an almost balladic feel, with Brooks’ shamanic, almost spoken delivery perfectly embodying the more melodic background. Delicious solo work blends with that demonic rhythm section which swells and subsides with incredible feeling and touch, while the reintroduction of the evil rasp in no way seems out of place with the Desert vibe. It’s a moving, powerful way to end an album of stunning magnitude, might, creativity and resonance. In the aftermath of losing a key member of personnel, Barishi may have inadvertently created a bloody classic.

9 / 10

PAUL QUINN