A friend recently accused me of being “rock qua rock.” Sitting here in corpse paint and sipping Jack Daniels, I get what he’s saying, but nah, I won’t lay down my life for just any guitarmonger. Armed with doom-o-plenty, The Sword, a Sabbathian Austin quartet, induce snoozes on Age of Winters despite huge bongwater riffs, Monster Magnet’s scale, an Ozzy pronunciation key, lupine howls, a drummer named Trivett Wingo, and D&D-pimped lyrics Jack Black would covet. (See “Freya,” which goes out to the Norse love/fertility goddess who boned four dwarfs to score a necklace and “Lament for the Aurochs,” in homage to the extinct primitive cattle, forebear to bovines one and all.) The sweet-leaf buzz is mighty in small doses, but give or take “Ebethron”‘s momentary ambiance, these kids are unvaried, as if taking their eyes off the full-throttle Iommi crib sheet would lead to implosion.
The sylvan structure and calligraphic lettering on the cover of The Indian Tower, Pearls & Brass’s second album, resembles Sabbath’s 1970 first. There are sonic likenesses too, but the Nazareth, PA trio’s ultimately more apt to boogie with Zeppelin and Grand Funk. Not afraid of wiggle room, the set opens with bowery electric a-capella harmonizing; later they insert two moody acoustic numbers—”I Learn The Hard Way” is a hoedown with throaty blues vocals, galloping fingerpicks and fireside cymbal washes. But if the one-sheet didn’t mention the boys’ have been jamming together for 13 years, I would’ve assumed they’d hooked up a few weeks back after catching Dead Meadow in Allentown and deciding they could increase the torque.
The Plastic Constellations are celebrating a decade together, but these clean-cut Minnesotans were 14 when they started and continue genre shopping. The quartet ups the amplification, but instead of hometown classics Husker Du, Crusades hints at Virginia crusts Avail in their early ’90s Lookout! prime—albeit with well-groomed squeakiness and backward-glancing post-punk curve balls. The guitars are unrelentingly angled, the hooks anthemic, the dynamics, well, a bit static. Instead of Avail’s front porch fight songs, the Plastics yelp like the Hold Steady dispensing Dismemberment Plan wit: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza represent as do the bellies of beasts and Cam’ronion claims like, “the kick drum is an earthquake, and the/typhoon is the bass/the guitars will make the earth shake.” You may pump your fists—shout-along choruses do that to a person—but as with The Sword or Pearls & Brass, you’re best off skipping the hand-me-downs and imbibing in the source material. Seriously, ever try getting buzzed on a lite brew?