Old Man Doom has his thoughts eaten by an iron-jawed guru.
Both Thought Eater and Iron Jawed Guru represent an interesting and longstanding tradition in the doom genre: the small ensemble. Thought Eater is comprised of Douglass Griffith on guitar, Darin Tambascio (National Sunday Law, Graviton) on 12 string bass, and Bobby Murray on drums. Iron Jawed Guru’s heavy stoner vibes are realized by the power duo of Mike Lorenzen on guitar and Roy Douglass Brewer on drums. But how do these relative newcomers fit into the ranks of other powerful duo/trio doom groups like Mantar, Elder, Black Tusk, or the mighty, unfuckwithable Yob? Let’s check it out.
Side one of Vortex 6 is filled out by Thought Eater, who bring four tracks of sidewinding, progressive-leaning doom to the table. The trio’s fuzzed out tones and occasional wah-effected pentatonic riffs (“Crystal Maze”) may evoke some typical stoner doom vibes (for better or worse), but don’t be fooled: Thought Eater are more High On Fire than St. Vitus. Riffs pummel instead of groove (“Crushing Metaphysical Crisis” takes a page directly out of Matt Pike’s holy riffonomicon); some slither into existence rather than call upon the tried-and-true four-on-the-floor beats of their stoned predecessors. These riffs are oil slick and set to KILL. The off-kilter – sometimes meandering – melodicism is just another subversion of the stoner doom paradigm and speaks volumes of Tambascio’s days in the progressive outfit The National Sunday Law. “Gift of Death” finishes out Thought Eater’s side acoustically, which, for listeners familiar with Tambascio’s Graviton side project with Intronaut guitarist Sacha Dunable, recalls the intricate and emotive 12 string guitar work from Graviton’s first and only album Massless. I should also take this moment to highlight the fact that both sides of the album feature exclusively instrumental tracks. So, to those listeners looking to indulge in powerful (and powerfully weird) riffs but aren’t interested in guitar wank-fests or sub-par Ozzy vocal ripoffs, this may be the album for you.
Typically, the purpose of producing a split album between two bands is to highlight the bands’ similar approaches to whatever sub-genre they occupy (doom, in this case) whilst also showcasing the unique aspects of each band. Iron Jawed Guru fulfills this concept on side two of the album. Like Thought Eater, Iron Jawed Guru subverts a number of expectations inherent in the stoner doom formula – chief among these subversions is the urgency with which these Virginian doomsters sling their riffage. The band cruises at a high pace, upping the tempo from the traditional low-and-slow doom mold to craft some aggressively groovy songs.
Of note here is the instrumentation. Like their fellow doomheads in Mantar, Iron Jawed Guru utilizes a minimalist guitar and drums attack to bring the most basic, yet crushing, riffs to your earholes. However, unlike Mantar’s reliance on heavy distortion and savagely loud tones, Iron Jawed Guru instead turn the distortion down and layer the guitar via octave effects to create a cosmic sense of space in the songs. Whereas Mantar create oppressive spaces with their dual string and percussive attack, Iron Jawed Guru opt for an intricate balance between huge drums and the clarity of several octave effected guitars across a wide stereo field. It makes for an interesting listen, and, like Thought Eater, the duo is entirely instrumental, allowing listeners to really focus in on the killer riffs on display. Upon repeated listens, I find it nearly impossible not to nod along with the high-paced, high energy grooves that Iron Jawed Guru execute with mastery of their doomy craft.
For this review, I couldn’t help but account for the various ways in which these two bands subvert and exploit the conventions that the stoner doom genre has solidified over the years (decades, at this point). I just found myself grinning from ear to ear as I listened to Thought Eater’s slithering, progressive take on High On Fire riffs and Iron Jawed Guru’s aggressively groovy hooks; it is, in my
tired humble opinion, an excellent and welcome departure from the norm. And as such, I wish both of these relatively new bands well as they navigate the outer space realms of stoner doom and prove that even a duo (or trio for that matter) has the power to reshape and explore the boundary edges of this genre.