Stumbling Toward Failure


While the stoner-metal movement has certainly driven the meat wagon over the cliff in its swarming Cheech & Chong-ism and Sabbath clichés ankylosed as orthodoxy, as a genre it’s still easy to enjoy solely on the basis of clumsy sincerity and a cheerful willingness to stumble toward certain failure.

Take Natas’s Ciudad de Brahman. While I have no idea what half of this fine CD is about, my Spanish being not so good, I wish they’d picked a better name. Y’see, at one time, “Natas” seemed almost always one of the first tags 13-year-olds or Venom devotees around the U.S.A. chose to name their first garage-metal band. So, for any heavy music lover who patiently reads weekly club listings, it has come to signify “nincompoops.”

Apparently the flinch factor associated with the name didn’t percolate to Natas’s Argentine home. Which is a shame, because they are hardly death-metal nincompoops, but rather upright space-rock players with an unabashed love for the instro throwdown.

Ciudad de Brahman kicks off with a salute to Carl Sagan, then proceeds on a leisurely journey toward “Meteoro 2028.” Wordage takes a powder as guitars hybridize Hawkwind boot-riffs with vague whisperings from the domain of topographic chinch bugs. However, Natas always return to the banging of the head, sometimes with unexpected slide guitar, and almost always precisely just when you think they’ve forgotten how. It sounds a lot like Eloy or Guru Guru ca. 1971, meaning Natas are reinventing a rather obscure wheel. But I’m all for reuse of fringe patents when they sound better the second time around.

In a slightly different vein is High on Fire, whose The Art of Self-Defense is not an instro album, but might as well be because of the peculiar guitar-amp arms-race dominating the genre. Determined to achieve supremacy in a field littered with musclebound competition, High on Fire are the Davy Crockett of stoner metal. The Crockett, a Cold War nuclear bazooka named after the man, was fielded by the U.S. Army in 1961. Like High on Fire, it was engineered for overkill: a small atomic bomb designed to be fired by would-be Sgt. Rocks, it had a range of only about a mile, ensuring it would also vaporize said Sgt. Rocks, if fired.

For more than half of their CD, High on Fire lay down a Davy Crockett barrage. Vocals are blown into the next county, listeners concussed by blast waves, drums scattered about in an uprooted tree. Nothing survives the kamikaze fireball of Blue Cheer guitar. On “10,000 Years” and “Master of Fists,” the yield is reduced just enough so the outline of a band emerges from the mushroom cloud. A few less kilotons next time around would do nicely.