There used to be an old gag doing the rounds of bars and clubs. It went a bit like this: “I see that Rollin’ Stones guitarist Keith Richards has joined the campaign against hard drug use. Don’t do drugs, says Keith. We can’t mate: you’ve done them all!” Mick Jagger’s partner in crime might have captured the public’s imagination for the debate on whether the drugs don’t work or not but Philadelphia’s Ecstatic Vision could run Mr. Richards a close second if their psychedelic and psychotropic opus, Sonic Praise (Relapse) is anything to go by.
Sonic Praise is both discombobulating and eerily familiar, often simultaneously. As heavy as Black Sabbath or Blue Cheer but allied with the same existential weirdness and trippiness of Hawkwind or the krautrock of Amon Duul ii, this five track EP is best played at night with the lights down very low, the red wine glass filled to the brim and the mind cleared of all daily grind so you can immerse yourself in its multi-layered, joyous cacophony.
There is an existential acid trip put to music on the opening track ‘Journey’ where lead vocalist Doug Sabolick doffs his proverbial cap to Lemmy Kilminster and his talented co-members conjure a playful, head nodding and head scratching wall of simply splendiferous noise. ‘Journey’ bleeds into ‘Astral Plane’ which, with its bongo solos opening suggests a hippier version of The Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ before it veers off in a more druggy, hazy direction, metaphorically dousing us in gallons of patchouli oil, offering us copious hits from a doubtless gigantic bong and wondering, if this really is the end of the world, whether we can have a bit of a love in before we depart this mortal coil.
Well, something like that anyway.
At five minutes in length, ‘Don’t Kill the Vibe’ feels like an extended coda to the epic nature of his predecessor, a long encore of LSD influenced pleading for the party to never end; it’s a compelling invocation, hard to resist. The title track soons follows, its swirling rhythms and melodies playful and evocative; of times past, places yet to visit, replete with substances for bending the mind and body. It’s a bit of a percussion masterclass for drummer Jordan Crouse who manages to keep a sterling and passionate rhythm going in amongst the deep and often bewildering sounds conjured by his fellow musicians. ‘Cross the Divide’ brings matters to a suitably endearing and psychedelic close, an effective distillation of the themes and tones of the rest of the record: it’s hypnotic, quixotic and exotic. Try saying that after a couple of glasses of your favourite tipple.
One of the eternally heartwarming facets of the heavy metal community is its understanding of its own history and tropes. Whether knowingly atavistic or determinedly reverential, the shock of the new is often co-joined by a warm blanket of the old. Ecstatic Vision know their history, but this is history imbued with reverence and respect. Sonic Praise is delivered with panache, guile and inventiveness.
The drugs do work, after all.