Friday, August 23, 2013

Diesto - For Water Or Blood (2013)

We all make the mistake of thinking that a band is new, simply because we've never heard of them. Let's be honest here; the amount of great bands we've never heard could fill a million volumes of an encyclopedia. As diligent as we try to be, as open minded as we can force ourselves to be, we will always miss out on things for far too long. It wasn't until our recent fascination with the Pacific Northwest that we delved deep into the musical genius of the Portland, Oregon scene, and found ourselves knee deep in the four album catalog of Diesto. This once noise based four piece has changed so much over the years, without ever alienating their core fans or heavy music fanatics. Now adopting a more doom-centric approach, complete with down tempo riffs, and a horse, if not gritty vocal, they find themselves on the precipice of something even more impressive. With this, their fifth album, released by the D.I.Y. label Eolian Empire, they may finally rise beyond the reaches of the Portland scene, and take on the national level, distortion, beards, and all.

By leading off with "Trail To The Sun," the band makes a very calculated statement. In addition to the stomping grooves, they immediately inject a dose of melody to the mix. The main riff, which permeates the entire track, is a good one, by any standards. Sure, there are moments when it seems simplified and stripped down, but it is a strength to combine simplicity and straightforward motions and get a solid soundwave. The vocals, unpolished as they may be, fit the bill to perfection here, adding a raw element to what is otherwise a well rounded affair. To lay out a dominating central theme so early could be dangerous, but as "Edge Of The World" shows, this isn't a one trick pony. The fuzzy distortion remains a constant, but not with a lack of reinforcement. The rhythm section plays a huge role in keeping the sound heavy, without becoming overbearing. Bassist Rusty Powers delivers a Herculean performance here, encompassing everything good about the low end; the rumbling bass, the smooth groove, and the pattern of consistency. His rock solid musicianship allows guitarists Chris Dunn and Mark Bassett to stray from the main line and turn the distortion up at the right moments.

In what could easily be called a smoky or hazy effort, "The Road" takes it's listeners to a place they may have been waiting years to visit. As the tempo drops and the intensity rises, the band unveils a track that is as balanced as anything in their back catalog. Dunn, doubling as frontman and vocalist extraordinaire, hits his stride right alongside his bandmates, as they pluck and smash their way through nearly seven minutes of blazing guitar riffs, surgically precise snare and cymbal hits, and a bass line that seems to be on infinite loop. If you've somehow ignored the drum work of Devon Shirley to this point, "Sirens" gives you a chance to pay your due respects. Each thump of the kick drum that pulses through your speaker is timed to precise specifications, while the vocals, in this case drawing a possible comparison to Baroness, hoarsely wash over you. As you move into the latter half, which comes all too quickly, pay close attention to the bass line, which may be as catchy as the guitars. As Dunn delivers the first line of "Adrift At Sea," where he croons "floating away," it all just hits home. The flow within each song and between one and the next is key, and makes this five minute piece feel just as quick as the eight minute ones.

Unlike many of the other bands that have flooded the genre over the last few years, Diesto have kept a focus on accuracy and timing, as you hear very clearly on "Dirty River." This isn't a band of amateurs, strumming strings and hitting drums haphazardly; nor is it by the stroke of luck that everything fits together. It is in this way that the music itself might become predictable, but in the best possible way. It allows you to sway and thrash along, without ever allowing yourself to skip to the next track. More than that, even as the clock ticks beyond the six minute mark, then the seven minute mark, you might be tempted to actually scroll backwards in hopes that the album won't come to the end that you can see on the horizon. Guitars cry, and bass and drums pound away, as the music fades to silence. It is complemented on the digital release by a bonus track taken from the "Keep Our Heads" compilation, released by Eolian Empire, title "Arrows." While it may be the same band, it stands out from the rest of this album, as evolution has done it's work.

For someone unfamiliar with the past works of Diesto, you run through the entire spectrum of thoughts when listening to their latest album. For a new band, these guys sure have some tight musicianship. Wait, they have four other albums? By the time "For Water Or Blood" comes to an end, you need only sit back and mumble to yourself, "must..own...entire... catalog." Not only is the album a powerhouse that deserves repeated listens, but their sound - that signature sound that makes them easily recognizable once acclimated - but it lends itself well to the vinyl medium, bringing a piece of the past into the present day. Somewhere in the middle of listening, you come to that realization that hearing these same songs on your record player of choice, as the needle rises and falls over that 180 gram piece of nostalgia, might be a life affirming experience. But that aside, as not everyone has rediscovered that once dead vinyl format, anyone who has gone this long without hearing what this Portland based band has to offer is in for a treat. Diesto have arrived... again. For the fifth time.


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