Starting a rock album with a song about a Motown legend may seem a curious move, but there’s little Detroit Soul here: initially Kings Destroy (War Crimes), the eponymous third full-length from this New York quintet, purveys some Queens of the Stone Age-style Desert stomp. The band’s second album, A Time of Hunting (also War Crimes), raised serious eyebrows, and the crushing yet pacy riffs and rhythms of opener ‘Smokey Robinson‘ expand on those expectations. Steve Murphy‘s voice has that laconic yet soulful delivery of Josh Homme, reaching some heavenly heights when crooning Robinson’s name, but has the right amount of gravel when required.
At the album’s slow points, such as large swathes of ‘W2’, it’s easy to feel that this is a band merely going through the motions, a prosaic structure surrounding the, albeit pulverising, drums and deep, revving riffs. Taking the critical eye away for a second, however, allows the true emotion to bleed through, the passionate vocals and harmonies augmented by the moving solo at the close. There’s more than a touch of Americana too, heightened in the pensive yet affecting segments of ‘Mythomania’: growling intersections adding an element of steel without dwarfing the soulful beauty of the music.
Unfortunately, as is usually the case with Stoner linked sounds, there are ingredients which belong with a really good pub band; the plodding nature of ‘Embers’ possessing the ability and feeling to bewitch such audiences whilst being devoid of any refreshing or inventive quirks that would ensnare other ears, with only another stirring solo enlivening the track to noticeable levels. The band are undoubtedly more impressive at a higher canter and the return to a languid Desert groove of the brief ‘Green Diamonds’, with more Homme-style inflections, gets the body snaking. In a disappointing end, however, early sections of closer ‘Time for War’ are dull, lifeless, and appear a little lazy.
Despite its heavy flaws, and the unlikelihood of appeal to many below a certain age, this is nevertheless an often capable offering for those attracted by easier sounds which still retain a hint of power.