It’s very easy to make a boring stoner doom album. Mix one part Jimi Hendrix with two parts Black Sabbath, roll into a joint, and smoke. Oh, and don’t forget to play some riffs. It’s thus quite refreshing to experience new takes (tokes?) on the genre. Costa Rica isn’t the first place that comes to mind as a hub of stoner or doom, but Age of the Wolf aim to change that with their debut offering Ouroboric Trances.
Mixing more than a little sludge into their riffs, they’ve served up a hefty slab of an album. But where sludge can steamroller, Age of the Wolf have exercised restraint to allow melody to come to the fore, making for an engaging listen. The opening bars of “Goliath” wouldn’t sound too out of place on an Inter Arma record, for instance, with Gabriel Ortiz’s drum kit taking a phenomenal pounding. But then comes the restraint: there is then a moment of quiet, allowing a short-lived plaintive melody to emerge. This brief interlude emphasizes the fury of the ensuing riff barrage. When the vocals kick in, the harmonized bellows on offer from all three string-slingers make for an emotional onslaught. These potent ingredients make for a heady mix, but it all works in the band’s favor. It’s definitely a doom song, but one with a hefty punch, wreathed in emotive smoke.
Talking of emotive smoke, the album closer “Molten Earth” is given some serious emotional weight by the clean-sung acoustic interlude at the six-minute mark. Crushing heaviness soon resumes, but the mournful melody is carried over into the last few minutes, making for a serious gut-punch of a climax. Clean vocals aren’t something often encountered in the Venn diagram of sludge, stoner, and doom, which makes this particular flourish a particularly interesting one. It may not be innovative, but it shows a willingness to experiment that sets Age of the Wolf apart from their peers.
On that note, the band’s flair for innovation is best expressed on “Witches Gallows.” It starts with a mournful fiddle solo that then gives ground to a pensive melody from the guitars of Christopher de Haan and Beto Ramirez. The fiddle then comes back in, played in an almost demented fashion, as if the fiddler has been cursed by the titular witch. There are lyrics to this song, but you’ll have to listen closely – they’re whispered quietly, as if the vocalist is afraid that the witch may not like what they have to say. There aren’t many stoner doom bands who would take as risky of a chance on a song like this – especially on their debut. Although the album sticks mainly to the stoner-doom lane, more experimentation as seen here and on “Molten Earth” does help push the envelope somewhat. It would certainly make for some very intriguing albums in the future, so here’s hoping they keep it up.
Following immediately on is “Bloodrage,” which exhibits some excellent shredding, as well as the kind of doom ‘n’ roll riffs that would make Khemmis sit up and pay attention. The instrumental section at the end (stuck after the odd decision to loop in the sounds of a busy bar) demonstrates the kind of fuzzy stoner meanderings that fans of Wo Fat would enjoy. Odd sound effects aside, what “Bloodrage” shows more than anything else is how much ‘fun’ there is to be had. It’s clear the band takes everything seriously enough, but it’s good to see them enjoying the music they’re making – and it helps the audience enjoy it even more.
If there’s any criticism to be leveled, it’s mostly at the opening numbers. While the riffs and bellows of “Herald of Abyssos” do make for quite the opening statement, the effect is undermined by the awkwardly-handled tempo changes. This is a minor criticism though, as they soon hit their stride with “Goliath,” and the rest of the album works a treat.
Sludgey stoner-doom can easily be done badly, but Age of the Wolf show the world how to do it right on Ouroboric Trances. The band are clearly having a lot of fun, and while the innovations on display don’t wholly push the envelope, they make for a very interesting listen.