[Click play above to stream Acid Mammoth’s Caravan in full. Album is out this Friday, March 5, on Heavy Psych Sounds.]
It is difficult to separate Acid Mammoth‘s third full-length, Caravan, from the context in which it arrives — and no, I’m not talking about covid-19, though obviously that too. It is the band’s second offering through Heavy Psych Sounds behind 2019’s Under Acid Hoof (review here), and the label has gotten behind a recent reissue of their 2017 self-titled debut as well, and the Athenian four-piece appeared last year on a split with 1782 (review here) as part of the label’s ongoing Doom Sessions series. With the boom in underground heavy that Greece has seen in the past decade, Acid Mammoth find themselves in a somewhat vaunted position, representing Athens on Europe’s preeminent heavy label. True, Nightstalker and Planet of Zeus — both of whom have been around longer — released albums on Heavy Psych Sounds in 2019, but as much as Acid Mammoth‘s lineup crosses generations in its string section with Chris Babalis, Jr. on vocals on guitar and his father, Chris Babalis, Sr., also on guitar, their sound and presentation represent that which is thoroughly modern in doom, a sonic devotion to riff that’s made its way through the lumber of Black Sabbath, Electric Wizard and Monolord to get where it is today.
In Acid Mammoth‘s hands, with Marios Louvaris slamming away on the floor tom as though stomping out the beating heart of societal collapse itself in “Psychedelic Wasteland” — a song for our times if ever there was one — and Dimosthenis Varikos bringing a murk to the low end that dooms the doom all the more, it is primitive on its face but deceptively intricate and ably constructed, with a consistency of craft that unites the material across this five song/40-minute release and finds Acid Mammoth living up to the challenge and responsibility before them. No single band could possibly embody the entirety of ‘Greek heavy’ as a form simply because it isn’t a singular form, but in culling influences from the worldwide heavy sphere and reshaping them into something of their own, Acid Mammoth nonetheless bring to life a key ethic in what’s made Greece flourish these last years, and so, are a fitting and vital representation after all.
Also, they riff. Oh my how they do riff. Caravan begins its course with “Berserker,” a five-minute clinic in how to make plod catchy that starts with an evil laugh as if Acid Mammoth, in knowing what’s coming, stand before the open door of a house of horrors. Sorry to disappoint, but what follows is far from horrific. It is stoner-doom for stoner-doomers, to be sure, and perhaps its argument for conversion might win a few new heads along the way — anything’s possible — but what’s clear from the outset is Acid Mammoth know what they’re doing and where they want their Caravan to go. Shades of psychedelia affect the solo in “Berserker” momentarily, but the lead work is almost oddly classy throughout the release, and it’s the forward push that ultimately wins the day, driven in no small part by Louvaris‘ insistent snare. A final chorus, a momentary ride on the groove, some slow-fade rumble and “Psychedelic Wasteland” takes hold with due feedback and thud.
Slower, longer at 8:53, and less immediate, it’s a suitable follow-up to the leadoff, luring the listener deeper into the world of Acid Mammoth‘s making, for which perhaps their own description is best. “Psychedelic Wasteland” isn’t as catchy as “Berserker” before it, but it doesn’t need to be for the job it’s doing, and its patience in delivery acts as a foreshadow for what will soon enough follow on side B’s two cuts, “Caravan” and “Black Dust.” After rolling out its grim procession, it culminates with a bookend of noise and fading tom hits, giving way fluidly to the opening riff of “Ivory Towers,” which reminds of Acid King‘s “Electric Machine” in its central progression but, again, is given a roll and a role of its own in capping the first half of Caravan. Thus far, the key throughout the release has indeed been the sense of forward motion, and another manner in which the collection isn’t as straightforward as it might at first seem is in how successfully it pushes its audience along the path its sets out. Even when they’re at their most mired — those moments are still to come in side B, granted — Acid Mammoth aren’t by any means still, and in “Ivory Towers,” they make a worthy centerpiece out of the structure that underlies their superficial rumbling chaos.
The “Caravan” departs about 15 seconds into the song of the same name after a beginning rumble. Acid Mammoth work quickly to align themselves with the storied stoner epics of yore — need I namedrop “Dopesmoker?” — with a general uptick in largesse of sound, and the nodding groove that accompanies is of the sort that one might want to title an album after. They’re just about four minutes into the total 11 before the first vocals arrive, which is plenty of time for them to establish the hypnotic roll they’re shooting for, and amid fuzzy solo lines peppered throughout in homage to those who’ve journeyed before them, they set out. Guitars drop circa 8:30 and the bass leads the way into the final push, and father and son solo lines (or at least one of them layered; but who doesn’t like a story of familial togetherness?) take the forefront on the way out.
“Caravan” would seem to be the apex of Caravan, but “Black Dust” is more than epilogue at a near-nine-minute stretch. Its Wizardly riff reaffirms Acid Mammoth‘s place among the chosen few, and if this it’s the band’s image of a pandemic-era dystopian aftermath, one is not the least inclined to argue. Further, “Black Dust” subtly unites sides B and A by leaning a little more into a hook than did “Caravan,” recalling “Berserker” and “Ivory Towers” earlier on, thereby summarizing the proceedings as a whole. There’s no corresponding sample at the end to answer the laugh at the beginning, but Acid Mammoth leave little unsaid just the same. In sound and style, Caravan isn’t revolutionary by any means, but the band acquits themselves as able to stand tall among their forebears, and their delivery is enough to make those footsteps of giants feel freshly trod.
Acid Mammoth, “Caravan” official video
Tags: Acid Mammoth, Acid Mammoth Caravan, Athens, Caravan, Greece, Heavy Psych Sounds