Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sigiriya - Return to Earth

Way back in the mists of time…the mid 90’s…the term stoner rock was only just starting to surface, in fact stoner rock itself was only just starting to make its presence felt. Kyuss laid the foundations for the desert rock sound, Monster Magnet gave rock and roll and acidic, vintage garage sound it hadn’t seen for over 20 years, Fu Manchu doused it all liberally with a slacker, surf bum approach and doom bands such as Trouble and Cathedral were digging out the flares and adding a trippy groove to their de-tuned dirges. The first time, however, I heard the term applied to a band was a ragtag bunch of retrogressive misfits from Wales who went by the name of Acrimony. At the time hardly anyone would give them the time of day…which was just as well as, thanks to their recreational intake of vast quantities of mind altering substances, they didn’t know the time of day themselves!!! It was possible to see though, from very early on, that this was a band with something very special going on, something very special indeed!!! After several years, two albums, a split release with Church Of Misery and various smaller releases, Acrimony finally bit the dust in 2002 with little more than a ground roots following. The various members went on to find differing levels of success in bands such as The Dukes Of Nothing, Black Eye Riot, The 9ine…etc but during this time away the band’s stock gradually began to rise and, as with so many artists, their true worth wasn’t fully recognised until they were gone and their legacy attained legendary status. When it was announced then that 80% of the band would be reuniting under the name Sigiriya, expectations were, understandably very high.

Many people will, no doubt, be expecting Sigiriya to be a reformation of Acrimony in all but name. To dismiss them as such would be to do no favours to the legacy of Acrimony and would certainly be even less kind to Sigiriya themselves. Let’s be perfectly clear here, Sigiriya are NOT Acrimony!!! Although original Acrimony alumni Dorian Walters (vocals), Stu O’Hara (guitar), Mead (bass) and Darren Ivey (drums) are very much involved with only guitarist Lee Davies missing from the picture, much time and experience has passed so this is a completely new venture. All credit to the band must be given. It would have been easy to trot out the Acrimony name and trade on past reputations but these guys don’t play Acrimony songs and are keen to establish Sigiriya as a concern in its own right, and if this debut album is any indication they will have no trouble at all.

Kicking of with “The Mountain Goat” it’s clear that time and age have not diminished any of the individual musicians’ power. This is a band that sounds invigorated, fresh and above all powerful. Admittedly with the shared experiences and influences there are some echoes of the past in the overall sound…a rolling behemoth of crushing stoner infused riffs and mighty grooves…but unlike the past there is a greater sense of focus and intent and, surprisingly with only one guitarist, a far greater sense of weight and drive.

“Tobacco Sunrise” mixes up classic 70’s rock with Sabbath’s mammoth crunch and subtle indigenous Indian and Celtic flourishes that show O’Hara to be the master of the mighty riff. Walters’ voice has also matured and grown in strength and character over the years sounding strident and confident with a certain patina of time roughing up the edges. One thing that will strike many in this opening pairing of tracks is how tight and succinct the song writing is, each song barely topping the 3 minute mark and free from any extraneous fat that would drag them into indulgent mode.

On “Hurricane” Sigiriya allow themselves to indulge their Celtic roots. In much the same way as Thin Lizzy would tip a nod back to their Irish heritage, Sigiriya evoke the spirit of the Celts in a song that is as uplifting and lilting with its folky airs as it is mind fuckingly heavy. It’s a far from easy task to blend beauty and brutality but somehow they manage it in fine style. You are left with the impression that this is so much more than a sum of their influences, this is a sound born in their very blood and bones.

As with much of the rest of the album, “Whiskey Song” shows that the simplicity of the riff is indeed key. O’Hara sees no need to dazzle with technique when a simple belligerent pummelling will more than suffice. It is this approach, however, that allows Walters to deliver one of the most memorable and insistent choruses on the album and gives Ivey free reign to show that he is a master at laying down a solid yet inventive beer spilling groove. I defy any audience to stay still at a Sigiriya gig and not morph into one single, throbbing entity!!!

“Dark Fires” shows that Sigiriya aren’t afraid to pick up the pace, but on their own terms. This is another Sabbath fuelled romp that again sees Walters display his innate knack for a catchy melody that soars over a “Children Of The Grave” style gallop while Ivey takes out every frustration on his already beleaguered cymbals!!!

For those of you hoping for maybe a little more doom in the Sigiriya sound will not be disappointed in “Robot Funeral” which takes the mood down whilst still allowing those Celtic vibes to seep through before launching into a chorus that I can only describe as doom glam…imagine T Rex jamming with Pentagram on a Welsh mountainside whilst toking on some of mother nature’s finest and heavying everything up to maximum!!!

Inevitably Sigiriya leave the best until last. “Deathtrip to Eryri” can only be described as a towering epic. To try and describe it as anything but would be both futile and foolish. During the course of its ten plus minutes it builds on a solid and relentless groove laid down by Ivey and Mead. In fact it is only around the half way mark that you realise that the tempo has remained constant throughout and the song’s true appeal and the skill of the band lies in the shifts in dynamics that flow from titanic and heavy to mellow and beautiful. Walters lays down his finest vocal line on the whole album and O’Hara pulls some truly stunning melodies from his guitar without losing any of the intensity that the album has managed to reach and sustain throughout its seven tracks.

As I said, expectations for this album will be high but Sigiriya have manned up, risen to the challenge and exceeded them by a mile. I will admit to having been nervous approaching the first listen of this album but before the first song had even run its course I was, for want of a better expression, blown away. This is an album of such incredible depth and power that it’s hard to imagine how Sigiriya will ever hope to match it let alone top it yet somehow I have faith that they are more than up to the task. This is without a doubt one of my top albums from 2011…and in my heart of hearts I think it may even occupy the top slot!!!


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