Okay, let’s get this out of the way quickly. Yes, the band is called Saint Karloff. Yes, the logo on the band page is from the movie Black Sabbath. Yes, we all know which metal titans that film inspired. And finally, yes, there is a hell of a lot of solid riffery on ‘All Heed The Black God’, but I’m very glad to report that as inspired by the music of days gone by that this Norwegian trio are, there is a whole lot more to them than simple Iommi worship and hailing to the leaf!
Whilst the cawing crow and sampled thunder leading into a well played guitar may well direct the listener to a well worn path on opener ‘Ghost Smoker’, and indeed on listening to the first few chords I could only imagine them being played on a Gibson SG. However, Saint Karloff, along with the familiar and comforting time changes, manage to mix in a combination of lo-fi production and hippy harmonies that give their music a sound that helps it to stand out from the general mix of the be-flared masses. In contrast to the melodic meanderings of the opening title track, ‘Space Junkie’ chugs along with a stripped back garage sound, and if any reader thinks I’m talking about the electronic musician free progenitor of modern Grime, go and grab an MC5 LP in your left hand, a Stooges LP in your right, and bring them together sharply with your head in the middle until you learn your lesson! After this figurative (and literal if you thought “Grime” and followed my instructions) battering, ‘Ganymedes’ comes as a soothing acoustic balm before the band swagger back with the cocky and confident beats of ‘Dark Sun’, again, its simple chugging delivery raised by the laid back harmonies the band use to highlight and back up the instruments.
A proto-punk anger is threaded through the urgent guitar opening of ‘Radioactive Tomb’ as Saint Karloff throw some social commentary into their lyrics, a distinct contrast to the weed and horror cinema themes of so many of their contemporary retronauts, as well as a minimalist breakdown in the middle that sounds like it was improvised on the spot, but is doubtless the product of much practise and hard work. If a solid headbanging beat is what you require, the band serve this up in the form of penultimate track ‘When The Earth Cracks Open’, arguably a track that will be most accessible to those who just want to swing their flares and shake their hair, all before closing off the album with some psyche infused heavy guitar rock in ‘Spellburn’.
If you’ve been foolish enough to follow my reviews over the last few years, you’ll be aware that I’ve been a champion of the retro wave that many thought was going to be a flash in the pan, but after more years than any naysayer would have thought has become a staple of the underground scene. As such, it’s most refreshing to hear a new band add to the mix some different, but equally valuable influences from the history of hard rock to their sound, a formula that adds a uniqueness that I hope will see Saint Karloff surviving to release more of their music onto the world. Well done them.