Monday, September 16, 2013

Potergeist - Swampires (2013)

The American population has made a filthy habit out of abandoning our own culture. Our food, our sports, even our music. We use and abuse them all, then let others do it more, do it better, or just do it at all. The southern metal scene in the US isn't dead by any stretch of the imagination. But it has, to some degree, gone dormant in the last decade or so. Rifts between some of the biggest names in metal, punctuated by the death of Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbot in 2005, have shifted the focus to other genres that have been creeping through Europe for years. But as we focus on the enw wave of folk or black metal, Greece's native sons Potergeist have worked towards and nearly perfected the signature American style. With their last album, "Muddy Murmaids," they brought the American South back to the forefront, blending in elements of the blues and psychedelic features. Now with the release of a new album, they hope to take their our brand of swamp metal for a spin. On "Swampires" they hit, they miss, and do it all with a groove.

After the short intro, the title track fires into full effect, fingers holding picks as they slide up the neck of the guitar. The down south grooves come out in spades, hammering down the massive walls of distortion. Guitarists Nikos XP and Stratal play well off of one another, bending strings in a lead, or nailing down huge chords in rhythm. Every riff has a place, and every possible place is filled with a riff. To complement that, vocalist Alex S.Wamp renews his signature style, one that few in the modern metal arena still employ. His voice, particularly in the songs like "Southern Crown," are reminiscent of late nineties stalwarts like Pantera, crushing down on top of already stomping beats. But what stands out more than his tone is the way he presents it, almost seeming as though this is just the way he sounds, as opposed to forcing growls. The tempo rises and falls as the tracks progress, rarely pairing similar time signatures together. The much more abusive "Every Time I Break"  is a showcase for the rhythm section to shine. Bassist Pluto and drummer Tolis Toleas keep the low end theory alive, with the latter beating his kit into oblivion in the breaks. All of this creates optimal space for a squealing solo, delivered handily before the three minute mark.

With each track sharing one thing in common, that southern flare, songs like "Loves Martyr" don't seem out of character for the band, despite being slightly more to the radio friendly side than we've heard from them before. The groove is there, eliciting a solid foot stomp or head nod, but S. Wamp dials back his punch and goes partially melodic here. The bass work is at a premium here,m with one catchy line after another padding out the bridge and outro sections. Some of the blues flavored guitars we loved from previous albums returns on "Rock Fairy," even for a song that might be all too accessible. Heavy handed as it may be, this ballad can't help but escape the pitfalls of the mid-album momentum trap. Rather than furthering the sound, it takes it all back to square one, bringing to muind the radio singles of Seven Mary Three. As a result, it is left to "Hope" to make up some lost ground. But with the album having hit a low, it is an uphill climb to get back on track. The guitar work is fantastic, hitting the right darting notes along the way. But with only a smattering of coarse vocal scattered throughout, it becomes difficult to regain the edge. It isn't until the final minute of the track that they start the process, thanks to a great stomping groove and a quick solo.

Perhaps that small flicker of a flame started the fire burning again, because "King's Army" is a return to the earlier form we had grown to enjoy. S. Wamp brings back that unrefined scream that drives this machine forward, with maintaining a strong blues presence. Each resounding thud from the kick drum pulses through your speaker like a punch, aimed squarely at your rib cage. Leaving the roughest cut for last, "The Time Has Come" may start out as the most impressive song on the album, until the bizarre trip hop chorus kicks in; the sore thumb of an additional that feels more tacked on than anything. Short as it may be, it provides an unwanted distraction from some of the best guitar work on the abum, and arguably S.Wamp's best performance. As  his screams grow more grating and unpolished, the music builds around him, twirling riffs cascading from all directions. But even the squealing of a harmonic can't rescue that chorus as it barges in, unwanted, again. Pluto and Toleas do some serious heavy lifting in the latter stages, pushing the track to the finish line. A passing motorcycle ends the album,as it fades into the distance.

You would be hard pressed to find a band in 2013 that embraces the southern metal genre more than Potergeist. They've made in the centerpiece of their sound when many bands had already chosen to move on from it. But regardless of their reasons, they execute it like a band in the prime of their career, often times bringing back memories of the bands that made the sound of the south popular a decade ago. But for an album with so many strong points, "Swampires" remains lopsided, with a flow akin to the roll of an egg. It is front loaded and back loaded, with the middle of the album left a little too light to make it fit. Perhaps it's the ordering of the songs more than the songs themselves, but finding a home for a ballad, and the subsequent rescue effort, is harder than it sounds. That isn't to say that pair of tracks derails the entire album; there is a noticeable recovery that follows. But if you remove the dead weight, "Swampires" goes from being an "almost was" to an "absolutely is." The swamp metal hunt continues.


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