Oct. 31--"Stoner rock" is a weird term. It generally refers to dark hard rock music that sounds like the band was smoking the funny stuff while they were making their racket, but the term can cover all kinds of different bands, from the fuzzy garage of Monster Magnet to the evil doom of Black Sabbath to the endless drone of Sleep to the muscular metal of High on Fire. The Twin Cities-based Exiles fits in here somewhere.
Their new four-song EP, "Wreck," features a cover that shows two blurry, brightly colored cars smashing head-on into each other. It's more like a Eurodisco album cover than a stoner-rock cover (we're missing a few skulls here), but it effectively transmits the vibe of the music. It's all motion and collision with this group.
"SWB" comes out of the gate sounding like Wolfmother's "Woman." Wait, scratch that. It's exactly the same riff, and it's played almost exactly the same way. Well, there's a little bit of guitar harmony in there, but the resemblance is uncanny and frankly a bit distracting. After a bit, the feel changes up and lead singer-guitarist Flip Arkulary starts doing his thing. "Seven witches burning on an open fire," he intones, his voice deep and Jim Morrison-y instead of high and Wolfmother-y, thank goodness.
"He said his name was Death," Arkulary sings. The song paints a suitably creepy scene, full of flames and Satanists and ashes and more flames, giving the track a kind of ritualistic "Wicker Man" feel. Things don't really take off until about midway through, when Arkulary and lead guitarist Sean Chaucer Levine start doing serpentine, harmonized Judas Priest guitar bits. Levine then drops a wah-drenched, noisy lead that is 10 shades of scuzzy.
"Black Candle" is groovier, and it doesn't nick any Wolfmother riffs. (To be fair, Wolfmother probably also stole that one, right?) This tune is more like a midtempo Mudhoney number, with fuzzy rhythm guitar and melodic lead work. The lyrics still are cut from the same occult-obsessed cloth as the first track, but the surroundings are more welcoming. "This incantation will set us free," Arkulary sings.
The EP's best song is "Supervolcano," which features giddy-up galloping drums from Mitch Miller, tasty bent-harmonics guitar coloring and Arkulary singing in a higher range. There's even a bit of Jimmy Chamberlin circa 1993 in the drumming. "You'll never understand the circle of death," Arkulary sings, before describing an apocalyptic vision of destruction by lava.
"King Boudoir" is, bizarrely, a blown-out Magnetic Fields cover that sounds like it was recorded on a boombox, and it only lasts 90 seconds. Yep. It doesn't fit on here at all, but it's certainly the kind of recording style that the band could pursue in the future, to a degree.
It's hard to get a picture of the kind of band Exiles is by this EP, and a full-length surely would go a long way towards filling in those blanks, but there's lots of potential here. There are a lot of ways these guys could go -- darker and more occult? Weirder and noisier? Slower? Faster? Whatever the case, these songs probably are just the dedications page of a gnarlier, blacker book of evil that still is being written.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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