Some of you may be scratching your heads and looking a bit perplexed as your internal monologue queries "Cassius King??!". Others of you are surely right in stride, reading this with your own properly applied insight and hip awareness. I have such as well, but mine are the collected experiences, events and intellect of a music fanatic at age 52. Today, that is a good age, as it relates to the same age range of the CASSIUS KING bandmates, beginning with The Garden State's fret manipulating guitarist and riff machine extraordinaire, Dan Lorenzo. Dan rose to underground fame in the 1980s with Hades, the iconic heavy metal band he formed in the late Seventies and where he made his bones with such revered albums as "Resisting Success" (1987) and "$avior$elf" (1998). Hades would eventually garner worldwide recognition and today, is considered a pioneering band in East Coast metal. Dan Lorenzo is a bona fide metal legend, but his story does not end there, nor does it stay within the confines of metal exclusively.
As an in-touch creator of six-string ax generated amazement, Dan vibed the tea leaves before the cup was drank and inspired, he delved even further into his craft. This led him to found the alternative metal / progressive grunge band Non-Fiction near the end of the Eighties. From there, the metallic blues of The Cursed would come, and for the last half decade, the gothic doom and heavy rock powerhouse, Vessel Of Light.
It was within these more contemporary moments of the age that I learned of Lorenzo's doings in CASSIUS KING. My interpretation of stimuli and some conversation with Dan led me to view this as more of a "for fun" band, at first anyway. You know the kind, one any player always feels blessed to have, where there are no undue pressures, and it is usually one containing some friends they have jammed with since way back when. All of this is true for CASSIUS KING, a band I felt Dan seemed to appreciate perhaps just a tad more than others. After all, it was for fun... and by "for fun", I mean, gather pals and jam out some covers, whatever. This is exactly how it happened, the birth and now growth of CASSIUS KING. No-pressure jam sessions ensued with two long running Lorenzo bandmates, the familiar rhythm section of bassist Jimmy Schulman (Hades, Vessel Of Light) and drummer Ron Lipnicki (Hades, Overkill, Vessel Of Light). This particular trio was galvanized and tested in the trenches, each player having respectable history linked to the others. At one point, as things are sometimes apt to do, albeit impromptu maybe, a recording came, under the radar for most, with a covers collection EP... mostly KISS.. covers. Remember... "for fun"?! Well, a serious man guested as a friend vocalist on some of the songs, the dynamic Rob Dukes (Generation Kill, Bloodmoon Ritual, ex-Exodus), as did singer John Kosco (Dropbox).
So, imagine my welcome surprise if you will, when recent conversations with Dan occurred and I learned something had changed. CASSIUS KING had evolved, or was evolving, take your pick, and a more productive tone and perception were now being applied to the act. This message for the masses was manifested in one very particular move, a cred boosting placement of an official singer for a full-length debut. Not just some run-of-the-mill mic holder either, but one the caliber of which would be required to move things forward. Enter none other than The Lone Star States' banshee of steel, Jason McMaster!
Yes, that's right, THAT Jason McMaster, he of Watchtower, Dangerous Toys, Evil United, Ignitor, Broken Teeth, and Howling Sycamore fame, among others. With such an impressive resumé, one thing should be clear, if nothing else, and that's Jason is the voice of versatility. He has explored varying styles and genres of music and has done so for nearly four decades, and he is as revered and admired as any musician out there. The alignment of he and Dan, added to the shared experiences of the Lorenzo, Schulman and Lipnicki trio, and the application of McMaster plus these three... is a most promising and impressive formula. It is a creative cryptographic, one written in talent, capable and able, and when deciphered, it is one scientific equation reading: "Field Trip".
Like the title implies, "Field Trip" is a collected tale of excursions, sound centered getaways in a song formatted vehicle. The contents thereof are of ominous portents, their overall feel is dark and oft times foreboding -- you know, like ones' take away from their first listen of the self-titled Black Sabbath debut. It's become almost cliché to make doom metal comparisons these days, and that's a shame because the overuse of the term has nearly nullified it for any legitimate usage. Here, on these tracks, it is unquestionably legitimate, yet also limiting. I say this because there are such diverse, multifaceted musical expeditions undertaken here, true. Yet, as sure as style oriented debates may take place, have faith there is one takeaway here that triumphs, irrefutable and unwavering, and it is... this, is METAL!
The album's second track, "Cleopatra's Needle", drives home the notion CASSIUS KING have only just begun to rock the masses. With a lively take on southern blues infused metal emanating with inescapably infectious output, the song is an earworm. Once thoroughly delivered, "Cleopatra's Needle" will be stitched into your brainpan for a long time. Next to arrive is a number that has quickly become a personal favorite of mine, the high soaring "Below The Stones". With tempos in constant flux, this stellar presentation is tightly wound at times, while others are seemingly more devil-may-care. The song establishes the validity of Doom 'N Roll as a musical style and style is seemingly everything, right? Well make no mistake, style is something this quartet have in spades, but without substance, it is all for naught. Here, we find no lack of either style or substance, their presence permeating songs like the irresistibly dynamic "Join The Exodus" or "Traveler". From its bass driven beginning ala Schulman and instantaneous lamenting nature, things soon pick up in pace. Lipnicki provides intermittent thunder while determining this tonal traveler's speed of advance, staying on course for the duration. Passages decrease on cue, others have an evident acceleration yet with a swinging undercurrent.
If you happen to find yourself beyond impressed at this point, get a grip because we're about to hit a stretch that will floor ya! It begins with "Apocalyptic Nations" and a meld of melody and rhythm that is just pure seduction. Possessing a laid back swagger in the music once underway, Jason's emotion packed vocals provide a hypnotic thrall. That lock is only reinforced with "I Move With The Moon", another Jason / Jimmy team-up in the lyrical department while LePage is also back. His soloing is a smoldering display and with the intriguing running time of 4:20, "I Move With The Moon" is an incendiary slow burner, smoking like a lit fuse. Jason's semi wailing vocal approach suits things rather nicely and when things do eventually detonate, the song proves itself a masterstroke (see what I did there?) indeed.
"Six" is one of the most interesting compositions to be sure, Dan's heavy stomp guitar devilment has your attention from the get go. Yet it's the unexpected musical twists and turns packed into the track that keep you in place. Intoxicating acid blues with a doom bent aptitude may describe it best but the psychedelic interludes cannot be refused. They ebb and flow in this musical Quaalude and are just as intense vocally. Truth is, there is quite an experimental feel in the contents ultimately bringing things to a close.
"Leave Of Absence" is a wailing, semi-metallic scattering of heavy funk angel dust. It's stitched into every note, inserted with good measure and flowing like a sonic stream. But, be careful... there is a riptide of riffs saturating the speakers and it can easily pull one under. At this point, we get to one of the most unique standouts of this collection, the haunting "This Side Of Forever". Shaded in dark hues of psych thickened doom reminiscent of early Trouble at times, this song's commiserating nature early on is fleeting. With a jarring shift some 90-seconds in, massive grooves take the reins and resonate with penitent tones. McMaster bemoans a universally poignant tale of cautionary woes while Schulman and Lipnicki provide the rhythmic spine to keep it all in line.
In the span of the ten originals comprising "Field Trip", CASSIUS KING cement themselves firmly atop metaldom's silver mountain. The chemistry of this quartet is magnetic and their song crafting is broad in scope and cohesive, rife with multigenre wizardry. As I eluded to earlier, the instinctive familiarity between Dan Lorenzo, Jimmy Schulman and Ron Lipnicki is undeniable. The placement of Jason McMaster at center stage is cake icing to the Nth degree and together, the four cast an aural spell that is a MUST for fans of any era of heavy metal!
The full-length album debut from CASSIUS KING, "Field Trip" is out now from Nomad Eel Records. It is worth mentioning the label's CD format of "Field Trip" includes two bonus track covers, Cheap Trick's "Big Eyes" and Led Zeppelin's "Out On The Tiles".
- Pat "Riot" Whitaker