Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Samothrace: Reverence to Stone (2012)

Don't Look Them Up on Metal Archives

Samothrace is a band that you should never, ever, under any circumstances, look up on Metal Archives. You will not be able to listen to them if you do.

I managed to listen to the band's sophomore album about five times before looking them up, and I formed my opinions about the record before seeing that page. What they play is often described as stoner doom with crust punk influences, which makes me think Electric Wizard and Amebix. But I find that couldn't be much further from the truth. It sounds like Isis interpreted by Swallow the Sun, or in other words, melodic death/doom with post-metal influences. OK, so they're both doom descriptions, but completely different otherwise.

Reverence to Stone is composed of two tracks of 14 and 20 minutes, with sparse vocals. Much of the melody reminds me of Panopticon/Absence-era Isis, as do some of the heavier riffs, but the tone of the instruments, apparent space of the production, and vocal style are early Swallow the Sun. Which could be a very cool combination, if they wouldn't take so damn long to go anywhere. The longer of the two songs starts out with 7 minutes of plodding paired with a long, dull guitar solo. For a little while right after that, it sounds pretty badass, but then it gets boring again. It lacks whatever the hell it was that made Isis so great (I still haven't figured that out, but they still give me chills), so the long, contemplative compositions don't work. It sounds OK, but ends up as background noise.

The Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars

Buy Reverence to Stone

If you still want to give the band a fair shot, stop reading right there, and don't scroll down. If you want to know what else I have to say, feel free to read on.

The band name, music, album art, song titles, etc. all seem like a band who love the music of metal, but aren't especially capable of making a good album come together. Just hearing it, that's my impression. What I never would have guessed is that they're hipsters. Yet, you can't avoid that impression once you see their Metal Archives page. In their picture, they look like hipsters, ratty dreadlocks here, flannel shirt and stupid knit cap there, dumb facial expressions all around. They came from Lawrence, Kansas, which I wouldn't think is a hipster stronghold except for the college, but are now based in Seattle. Yes, that Seattle. They're on 20 Buck Spin, which despite having a few strong releases, is known to aid and abet hipsters. And none of that is the worst. Worst is, band members have been involved in bands called The Fucktards, Christianistan, and Short Bus Kids. I can't think of names that scream "hipster" much more loudly.

So, my inclination is to dock their score for being a bunch of fucktard short bus kids, but the score reflects the music.


  1. Dude, chill. That last line is particularly alarming. :/ How many of your scores are reflections of personal feelings about the clothing and lifestyle of the band members themselves? Why not grade them on how much money they have, or who they hang out with?

    If I want elitism, I have a smorgasbord of blogs and magazines to choose from. You do what you want with your blog, but this review represents a sad turn, to me.

    Just my honest $.02. Keep up the generally great music writing!

  2. Why so alarming?

    None of the scores reflect anything other than my impressions of the music, and if I mention image, it's normally to illustrate something about the music itself. (As when I talked about Tombstones.) Here, it just blew my mind to see these guys, because they didn't look how I expected them to look, based on the music. You can normally guess that kind of thing, you know? There's a particular uniform to each kind of sound, and while I don't want to give the impression that should be enforced, it's still surprising to see such a deviation. In short, the only reason I bring this stuff up is because I really did not think this sounded like something hipsters would make, yet they really look and seem like hipsters based on how they present themselves.

    Also, I think you're overreacting to the last sentence, which only calls them things that are their own band names. I wouldn't use such insults otherwise.

  3. I kind of agree with WC, at least in part. Although in our super-connected world, it's hard not to separate someone's appearance and habits from their music (try to listen to Megadeth and not think of dumb things Dave Mustaine spouts), but you spent a whole paragraph talking about how they look and where they're from. Isn't that kind of a hipster stance in itself, i.e., judging form and style over function?

    Full disclosure, I liked the first album, and although I'm not a super fan, I'm curious to hear this one. And I can totally get why someone wouldn't like what they're doing musically. But if we start getting riled up about silly band names and knit caps, we're going to have to stop listening to most of metal. Metal is silly. I love it, but it's silly. Dudes wear corpse paint and metal spikes. Dudes carve upside down crosses on their heads. They name their bands things like "Cannibal Corpse" and "Cattle Decapitation" and "Necro-" plus any possible suffix Are those really more ridiculous than "Short Bus Kids"? I don't think the line between "serious metal" and "goofing off" is quite that stark.

  4. I touched on the good silliness of metal versus bad silliness and the importance of image in "What's in a Name?"

    As an insight into my process, I try to avoid looking at anything that has anything to do with a band--their web site/Facebook/Metal Archives page, etc.--until I've heard the album enough times to go ahead and write the review. Of course, by then I have read a bare minimum of promotional spew to decide whether I wanted to listen to it at all. Then I listen to it, at least 3 times but usually more. Then I look at their MA page, usually very briefly and only to get background information (label, where they're from, how many albums they've released, and so on). I will look deeper into their Internet presence and read other reviews only if I'm having trouble finding anything interesting to say about the release.

    So, given that background, maybe it will give you an idea of the extent to which things like image may affect my opinion. As you said, Mr. White, it's impossible to completely separate it.

    With all of that said: Your criticisms are duly noted. And welcome, Mr. White.

    On the subject of hipsters, I think I need to write something specifically on that topic. One of my best friends from law school is a self-described hipster; we could talk about media but rarely agree on it. To quote myself from this article, "People you don't normally think of as metalheads can bring new blood to the genre. If a hipster is anything like the guys in Deafheaven--regular guys who want to try out some forward-thinking black metal--I'll welcome them to the fold. . . . But if a hipster is more like the guys in Liturgy, with a full-blown sense of irony and casual superiority, then they can rot."

  5. I haven't heard this yet but I want to. I have been caning their debut album Life's Trade in the past few weeks and absolutely love it. It has four slightly shorter songs (10 to 13.5 mins), so might be less meandering.

    I'm a bit troubled about your focus on their appearance and supposed "hipsterism". Isn't the point that you listened to the music and had no suspicion that this was some ironic appropriation of doom? That alone might suggest that they have created authentic art, whether or not you personally like it.

    Nor have they come out and tried to tell everyone that their understanding of doom/post-metal was wrong, they have just quietly gone about making a much-loved debut record (check the reviews around the web, all positive) and then some time later, a follow-up.

    You can love metal and heavy music without conforming to a tired stereotype.

  6. "You can love metal and heavy music without conforming to a tired stereotype." Agreed. I've been met with surprise many times when people find out my musical preferences.

    "Isn't the point that you listened to the music and had no suspicion that this was some ironic appropriation of doom?" That is exactly the point I was making, and why I suggested some might not want to read the rest. I don't think hipsterism is necessarily all about ironic appropriation, though. It's primarily about cultural tourism, which I'm ambivalent about.

    And honestly, this bored me. But like you observe, they created something that, at the very least, sounds authentic.