Ghost Town Electric/Defending the Kingdom, Ghost Town Electric/Defending the Kingdom
Now, this is what vinyl’s really meant for, as far as I’m concerned: two sides of badass, heavy, bang-your-head rock on one solid slab of wax. Of course, in this case each side’s by a particular band, but since the bands in question are both heavy and raw and complement one another’s presence quite nicely, hey, it works.
Of the two, Ghost Town Electric are probably the more intriguing outfit — although that’s not meant as a slight to DtK, who I’ll get to in a minute. It’s just that Ghost Town Electric dwell comfortably in this seemingly weird zone in between Hello Master-era Priestess and Mastodon; there’s a metal edge to everything but it’s not really metal, with bits of stoner-rock, ’70s rock-and-roll, and even rootsy barroom boogie peeking ’round the sides.
The band starts off guns blazing with “Exhaust,” a full-on burner that sounds so thick it seems like it literally fills the space around the speakers. The drums gallop like an out-of-control herd of horses, while the riffs stab and slash, carving away chunks of sound as they go; the song gets in and then gets out quick, leaving you bloodied and reeling in its wake. The end result is somewhere between Mötörhead and post-hardcore dudes A Wilhelm Scream, all neck-snapping and snarling and belligerent, and it’s the perfect way to kick things off.
“Sole Controle,” the next track up, is a fair bit more classic rock-sounding, to my ears, but it still retains a punk ferocity and rides a meaty, speeding groove that comes off like Thin Lizzy on way too much speed or Northwesterners Federation X a. The GTE boys then throw a curve with “Feelin’ Strange,” a left-turn of a track that seemingly abandons the stoner-metal and devil horns in favor of understated drums, blues guitars, and churchified organ (courtesy, I believe, of Roky Moon & BOLT keyboardist Cassie Hargrove).
“Strange” is less heavy rawk and more The Lonely H, truth be told, a cool, laid-back dose of country-blues; it’s down-low and rambling but not jangly, and I freaking love it when, about a third of the way through, vocalist/guitarist William Hesser unexpectedly cuts loose and shifts upwards from a country-boy croon into a full-on throaty howl. The track ends with solid, “round”-sounding guitars that sound like they could’ve crawled off some old 78 you found in a box in your daddy’s attic.
Just when you think the band’s headed down the country lane, however, they come roaring back in with “Atomic Temple,” a monstrous, downtuned slab of ultra-bassy, nitro-burning metal that Monster Magnet would’ve been proud to call its own — it’s the heaviest, weightiest thing on here, although even then, Ghost Town Electric lets bits of melody and daylight peek in through the cracks.
Despite the incongruity of sticking the skullcrushing heaviness of “Temple” in right after a song that makes you want to find a porch where you can sit back and slug cheap liquor, mind you, it works beautifully. Odd as they might seem together, the songs (both these two and the two before) all fit like they were meant to be parts of the same whole all along.
For their part, Defending the Kingdom’s half of the LP begins on a more restrained note, with the nicely atmospheric, moody “Exile”; there’s a heavy doom-metal influence here, leavened by the straightforward (mostly), almost Billy Corgan-like vocals. By the song’s end, I can’t help but think of a less high-flying — but more psychedelic, really — Red Sparowes. The band plays a delicate balancing act throughout, teetering on the edge between Pelican-esque soaring, bombastic guitars and more flat-out metal.
“The Great Divide” is more what I’d expected from Defending the Kingdom, to be honest — it’s heavy, martial-sounding metal with slow-moving rhythms and shredded-throat, roared/howled vocals that fight the more distant, flat-sounding “straight” vocals for dominance. The band stomps and crushes their way along, burying some surprising melodies beneath the juggernaut rhythms and muscular guitars, and when the non-screaming vocals come in, they provide a nice shift in the tone of things; the melding almost makes me think of screamo kings Four Hundred Years.
The band closes out the LP with “Entering Machine,” which takes the best elements from the preceding two tracks and combines them into one massive, unstoppable force of thundering, heroic guitars and break-the-kit drums (all of which resembles fellow Houstonians Omotai more than anything else, really). This time the band throws in some cool, freaky-sounding electronic noises, to boot, letting them burble and squirm in the background, and then these far-away background vocals come in like the song of some troop of Valkyries soaring over a battlefield somewhere.
For what it’s worth, by the by, Defending the Kingdom’s three songs appear to be some kind of song cycle, but I can’t understand much of what they’re saying, so I’ve got no clue what it’s about beyond the song titles. But hell, by the time I realize that’s the case, I no longer care; I just want to hear both bands again, and again, and again.