It can definitely be said that you can make your own luck. In the two years or so since Desert Storm self released their first album “Forked Tongues” the Oxford based five piece have shown a work ethic that would put Metallica in their hey day to shame, playing gigs everywhere and anywhere including high profile tours with bands such as Karma To Burn and Honky, organised by the band themselves. The work is definitely paying off with a gradually expanding fan base and a deal with Reading based Blindsight Records.
So, how does “Horizontal Life” stack up against the flawed but decent debut? Well, this is a huge leap forward for the band who sound more assured, confident, tighter and focussed in every way. One of the biggest issues with the first album was a pretty poor sound that was reminiscent of a cheap demo. This time round, however, Jimmy Hetherington’s production is fat and rich paying strong emphasis to the impressively weighty guitar sounds the band throws down. So far so good.
Musically things kick off in fine style with “Word To the Wise Man” which is reprised from the debut and was a definite highlight of that album with it blatant Clutch vibe. Quite why they’ve chosen to re-record this song I’m not sure but hey, it’s a great song and vocalist Matt Ryan is in fine Neil Fallon form here in particular. “Shadow Of An Eagle” and “Astral Planes” follow and maintain the band’s Clutch boogie groove. There’s no doubt that Desert Storm excel in playing the heavy blues card and it is impossible not to find yourself drifting into a lazy. Head nodding groove whilst listening . On top of that the songs are dynamic and well structured with an abundance of killer riffs and strong hooks. Guitarist Chris White also deserves to come in for some merit with his fluid and tasteful lead playing that steers clear of mindless showboating and adds a nice bluesy vibe to the proceedings in classic foot-on-the-monitor-head-thrown-back style. It’s good to hear someone wailing in classic style rather than wanking aimlessly!
So the album continues locked into its Clutch indebted groove through “No Slave To Master” and the fine tones of “Mr. StrongBatch” which also tips its hat to Corrosion Of Conformity’s “Senor Limpio” with its tight, syncopated riff that somehow morphs into “Roots” era Sepultura during its mid section breakdown. This track is a definite highlight though it has to be said Matt Ryan’s take on Neil Fallon’s preacher man blues growl is starting to sound a little contrived and wear thin by this point. It is interesting that at this halfway mark in the album the Desert Storm chaps embark on a distinct stylistic shift. “Enslaved In An Icy Tundra” is a far heavier, more metallic beast adding a darker, far doomier vibe than we’ve heard up to now. In some ways this is a welcome relief as the album was in danger of becoming a little one dimensional with one mid paced groover following another. On the other hand it does highlight one of Desert Storm’s weaknesses in that, stylistically they have always had a sense of being unsure of where they stand or how they should sound…or maybe they’re overtly keen to appeal to as many people as possible. The heavier sound does suit them and Ryan’s near death metal growl seems to find a more natural home here but it does make for a slightly uneven listening experience. This continues through “Lunar Domes” which has strong echoes of Cathedral in its Sabbath driven, fuzzed up groove. Again, this is a fine song with a great dynamic but leaves the listener confused as to the direction the band wish to take. The ten plus minute dirge of “Titan” continues in this vein but adds a more subtle dynamic with quieter, cleaner verses and an offbeat rhythmic shift that dispenses with the album’s earlier groove entirely and again sees the band flirting with some Cathedral style doom. These criticisms of the band’s stylistic shifts may seem overly harsh, the songs are good overall and no band should be needlessly criticised for being adventurous and extending their reach. However, in the case of bands such as Clutch or Cathedral, for example, these bands have been able to develop and broaden their stylistic reach yet retain their unique identity…Clutch’s first and last albums have wildly different stylistic outlooks yet retain the band’s core identity and remain recognisable as the same band throughout. Desert Storm, however, seem to have yet to find their own voice. As fantastic a band as they may be and as strong as their song writing skills are throughout this album they are still throwing out hooks in all directions to latch onto something that will make them unique, or at least immediately identifiable. ParticuIarly when on last track “Scorpion” they throw in some confused thrash crunch for no apparent reason. have no doubt that this will come with time…the progress made by the band in the space of two years bears testament to this.
Mention has to be made of “Gaia” with its eastern themes and use of acoustic guitar and what sounds like India percussion is a magnificent fusion of Mississippi blues and Ganges spirituality that also sees Ryan break away from his usual gargle and explore the wider possibilities of his voice to fantastic effect. Despite being yet another musical about face on this album this, for me at least, is a real highlight and shows that desert Storm are capable of real maturity and sensitivity.
Despite my reservations about the band’s stylistic uncertainty there is no doubt that Desert Storm are a band that are on their way to bigger and better things who have produced a strong piece of work in “Horizontal Life” that stands shoulder to shoulder with many of the UK’s stoner rock hardcore. It certainly sound like Desert Storm are in it for the long haul and happy to take their time to get where they need to be…and they will get there…oh yes, they will get there!!!