While The Path to the Deathless (Desert Records) continues down the psychedelic stoner journey that Red Mesa put forth with 2018’s The Devil and the Desert, its execution is grittier. The atmosphere carries hints of desolation within its imagery of open desert plains and the grainy guitar tone has a certain nastiness even when it isn’t overtly aggressive. There’s also not much emphasis on acoustic playing this time around, and even the tracks that do feature it come with a more noticeably somber air.
Of course, the album’s numerous guest performances are what inevitably draw the most attention. ‘Desert Moon’ is the most noteworthy track in this regard, perfectly channeling the raw grooves of Earthride even before Dave Sherman’s distinctive drawl makes an appearance, and it’s pretty cool to see Wino adapt his signature delivery to the style at hand on ‘Disharmonious Unlife.’ The closing “Swallowed by the Sea” may not have as big names attached to it, but the violin and pedal steel respectively provided by Kristen Rad and Alex McMahon do a splendid job of pushing the vision from American Southwest to open ocean.
But even without the name recognition, the album excels thanks to the smooth flow between tracks. Like its predecessor, there is a sonic narrative at play but the integrated dynamics between songs results in a more effective experience overall. The title track and ‘Desert Moon’ do a splendid job of mixing psychedelic interludes in with their sludgy pummeling while the gentle acoustics on ‘Death I Am’ are accompanied by mournfully intrusive backing effects. Bandleader Brad Frye’s bluesy gravel also does a good job of leveling out the mood when it gets to shine.
With a little help from some talented friends, Red Mesa’s desert rock formula sees some healthy growth on The Path to the Deathless. The atmosphere is the primary point of appeal as the open vibes keep the song flow cohesive and gives weight to the desolate mood throughout. The adaptable musicianship and dynamic songwriting certainly don’t hurt either. There are plenty of bands evoking this sort of imagery, but few do so with this degree of purpose behind it.
8 / 10