Slowbot - Sleepwalker (2020)
It's been almost five years since Slowbot's last release, with their sophomore EP, Pacifier for the Mind. Following just a year after their self-titled debut EP (which we covered here), their second effort found the band solidifying their stoner rock flavors into a heavier form, and stepping up their cover art as well. Both trends continue with this LP, which comes as a welcome return from their hiatus, and brings with it six tracks of the French group's heavy rock explorations.
First of the tunes is “Sleepwalker (Part 1)” (its second half closes out the album, fittingly), a creeping crusher which finds the band delving into doomier territory than they've shown on either of the earlier releases. Once the mood is firmly set, the vocals arrive, ringing out over the swampiness of the guitar and bass, and muffled clangs of the cymbals, with a goosebump-raising ghostliness to the timbre and intonation. Some deft soloing directs a bridge into more pronounced restatement of the original riffage, with a brief drop before surging even higher for the finish.
With that powerful opening, there would be a lot of options for how to follow it up, and Slowbot go with a shift towards more of a hard rock route in “Strange Fish”. The drums are allowed to come through more clearly, the guitar riff rides faster and more intently, and the vocals, while still echoing with some distortion, feel more earthly in their delivery. As if to balance that out, the breakdown is much more psychedelic, with some serious flourishes on the strings. “Inside” steps back into the big shoes, coming together at just under nine minutes, and bringing its heavy rock base on a versatile trip. The vocals come through cleaner still, and some lush atmospheric bridges rise up, but with the guitar and bass slamming their chords down as hard as they do, not an ounce of heaviness is sacrificed.
Opening the B-side (assuming this album gets the vinyl release it absolutely deserves) is “Ride”, which brings a rollicking rhythm to bear, and a pounding chorus to get lodged in your head. Dropping down to just seven minutes, it really evokes the sun-baked feel of rolling down a highway with no particular destination, and practically demands to be played at high volume. Penultimate track “Here Comes the Fire”, far from being a toss-off warm-up for the finish, changes to a rawer guitar tone to help it stand out (as the LP's shortest song, it kind of needs that feature). Some droning warbling from the singer helps lend further garage psych flavoring, and the guitarist really seems to be having fun with the solo on this one.
Lastly, “Sleepwalker (Part 2)” brings a close with its nearly eleven-minute run. Pulling together vibes from all the preceding songs, it unfurls a lengthy instrumental wandering, building up energy before the vocals break in, pulling it into the doom-tuned mood. Flowing from there through assorted other twists and mutations, the band eventually ties it all back into the original order, giving a fine showcasing of their chops in the process. It's a pleasure to hear Slowbot back again, and rising to the occasion with such verve and creativity. Here's hoping that (in addition to this getting a vinyl pressing) their next release doesn't have such a time gap in making its way to us. Even if it should, though, this one is loaded with enough variety and life to hold up to playing all that while.
For Fans Of; Canopy, Fatso Jetson, Greenthumb, Keef Mountain, Pale Grey Lore
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