Let’s be frank here if I were to say Stoner, Sludge, Doom Metal what would your first thoughts be aside from naming checking 100 or so bands in this genre? Brown notes? Grimy basement venues with a bunch of other long hairs (or short hairs let’s not be discriminatory here in these woke times of ours) nodding along in a fugue of weed fumes, cider and black as the bass thuds into you oesophagus? Yes? All of the above? Cool. What if I were to say to you Costa Rica? I’m not a betting man, but I would imagine the country buttressed by (Surf) Nicaragua (Sacred Reich reference for the aged amongst you) and Panama would not cross your mind?
But Ladies and Gents, this is all about to change with this the debut long form release from Costa Rica’s Age Of The Wolf. Named after the popular 2000AD comic book series depicting a post-apocalyptic Earth based imagining of a werewolf dominated society, this is a sturdy traipse through the standard Doom/Sludge playbook that’s as indulgent and overblown (at times) as it is competent and enjoyable. If that sounds like I am damming ‘Ouroboric Trances’ with faint praise…then yes that would be half true. It’s a difficult one because at one turn, this sounds like formulaic and slightly under produced (in that it at times sounds like it may have been recorded at the bottom of a rather deep well, with an array of Fisher Price ‘My First Microphones’ lined up in a cupboard filled with Marmite and pickled onions).
Some tracks such as ‘Molten Earth’, roll out the histrionics as operatic Axl Rose esq- vocals soar into the sky like a weather-beaten seagull as the guitars seesaw over each other in a deadly death spiral that sounds like the worst excesses of heavy metal posturing you can imagine. That’s the bad, and some of this is bad. Not in ‘I fucking hate this and want to flick my eyes out with a spoon’, bad, but in a ‘I am actually forgetting this immediately whilst I am actually listening to it’ bad. There is some light amongst the shade here though, and whilst it would easier to write off this debut album as a disaster of Titanic proportions, it’s not all bad. Actually, far from it. In fact, if AOTW were to pick the best 4 tracks of this album (basically the first 4 songs) this would be a win on all levels. The good here is when they pack away the Steve Vai guitars and settle on a bouncy, doom laden groove, with some Death/Obituary Floridian sludge vocals that have your foot tapping and head nodding. It draws some comparison to early Cathedral and Electric Wizard, and whilst I am not for one minute suggesting that Age Of The Wolf are dining at that particular banquet table, this has enough going for it that it rescues what could, on the face it, have been a total disaster involving collisions with all the worst tropes of ‘Metal’ but actually turns out to be a competent and enjoyable debut.
It’s like a painter who has finished a work of art but can’t help but tinker with it, ‘One more splash of colour here, another ear there, let me add a lion onto that ship and draw a cat on his head there’. Just stop! It’s finished! It’s good! Stop fucking about with it! If they can stop genuflecting at the altar of the worst excesses of this genre and concentrate on the songs, then AOTW have a bright future ahead.
(6.5/10 Nick Griffiths)