Remember Peter Frame’s Rock Family Trees? He’d have a field day picking through the web of relationships that bind Stoneburner together. The only one that really stands out is the fact that bassist/vocalist Damon Kelly is the son of sludge-lord Scott Kelly from Neurosis, Shrinebuilder and multiple others. That’s a tough act to follow, but if there’s any pressure from that connection, particularly now that the band is ensconced on the Neurot label, then it really doesn’t show on the follow up to 2012’s Sickness Will Pass.
It is to Stoneburner’s eternal credit and benefit that they don’t just take the easy option and head straight for the sludge. If anything, theirs is a sound that acknowledges many influences but refuses to be drawn into adopting the rules and traditions of genre rules. Just as their name suggests something organic, primal and elemental (although it is of course derived from Dune), so their sound digs back into the history of metal. The opening blasts of Some Can and Caged Bird are both steeped in the bubbling ooze of Black Sabbathian riffing. Growled vocals are crushed under the weight of behemoth chords and thundering basslines. This is the sound of the scorched Earth finding its form. It is also possible to hear hints of early Mastodon in some of the guitar work and of course, there’s a little Neurosis lurking in the shadows too.
It’s not all heads down doom, sludge and riffing however. Caged Bird might well possess those elements, but from the opening bass figure, it’s clear that there’s more to Stoneburner than simple crushing tactics. At the midpoint, there’s a slight derivation into atmospherics that momentarily derails the skullcrushing riffs and exposes a soft underbelly to the band that until that point, had been carefully concealed.
Taking things in a different direction is Drift, a brief but quite beautiful acoustic instrumental number that again shows a side to the band that many might suspect didn’t exist. It is somewhat reminiscent of a Led Zeppelin segue, except that Led Zep never launched into a song quite as full on as An Apology To A Friend In Need, which is another rumbling mass of outstanding riffs and gurgled vocalisations.
It’s with Pale New Eyes that the band really flexes its songwriting skills and explores far more atmospheric territory. At times it sounds like early My Dying Bride, and at others the expansive sonic palette of Isis. Whatever the influence, this chunk of prog-doom is utterly compelling and immersive.
They repeat this acoustic leading into sonic brutality technique with Giver Of Birth and Done, although the change is a lot more subtle this time around with Done initially taking the form of a soundtrack for a 1950s horror B-movie. It’s a feel that persists even as the guitars start to ooze sludge and the amps turn themselves up to 11. It’s mighty good fun though, even if the riffs adopt a slow punch that even George Foreman would have found a little easy to spot.
It’s with epic 18 minute closing track The Phoenix that Stoneburner really impress however. An exemplary exercise in pacing, development and musical dexterity, it unfurls ever so slowly as repetitive motifs seek to hypnotise just before a clandestine guitar riff comes charging in from the shadows. With skull crushing business all but done, the band heads off in a trippy psyche-rock direction for a while before bringing the colossal riffs back for one last hurrah.
Life Drawing is a quite monumental record in that it doesn’t adhere to any rules. Certainly the history of metal can be found in its bones, but this is no homage, it’s an evolutionary step.