June 2012 has to go down as a damn near perfect month for Old Loaves. The band released their debut full-length, Drowser, on Bandcamp on the 21st, and watched it shoot to the top of the bestseller list. Available in varying formats, *Drowser *is a formidable debut (I secured a copy of the *Bad Rides 7″/Drowser *combo deal, and I’ll be reviewing both). The band may well be tagged on Bandcamp as “alternative metal”, “post-hardcore” and “stoner rock”, but in reality they offer a raft of highs well outside the parameters of those classifications.
Old Loaves consists of Cameron Reid (drums and backing vocals), Kalem O’Brien (bass and backing vocals) and Benjamin Ward (guitars and vocals), split between Wellington, New Zealand, and Sydney, Australia. Fittingly, the band’s reference points are set far and wide. You’ll find the pulse of Om, the jarring tones of Amphetamine Reptile, and the crawling threnodies of Neurosis. But the lurch and drop of Cult of Luna also appear, as do the surge of Botch, the swampy thrum of early Baroness, and the ruminative gaze of Boris—all of which Old Loaves imbue with the bong-seeped synergy of Sleep.
Admittedly, Old Loaves belie easy classification. One minute they’re heaving labyrinthine, sludge-ridden and off-kilter passages at you, the next they’re showing immense adaptability, shifting into bass-rumbling, Joy Division-esque territory, or extending notes and riffs with feedback and static drone. If you’re the kind of open-minded music fan (metal or otherwise) who appreciates gutsy and innovative post-whatever pursuits, you’re in for a rare treat.
16 June 2012: Bad Rides 7″
*Bad Rides *was originally released in 2010 as the free three-track digital EP, Bad Prawns. Tracks “First”, “Second” and “Third” were recorded live in a single session with no overdubs, while “Hollow” was recorded in 2011 with Shannon Walsh. Tim Shann engineered the initial sessions for the first three tracks, and has mixed and mastered the entire EP. Whatever post-recording tinkering he has indulged in has taken nothing away from the tracks’ buzzing abrasiveness or their acid-burn temperament.
As you’d expect from a single session plough-through, it’s raw, ragged and rough-hewn—in the very best way, of course. Counterpointing the visceral heads-down accent is a strong sense of balanced dynamics. “First” is layered with expressive and isolated notes, adding extra skin to its otherwise sludgy churn. “Hollow” drips with an evocative Earth-like drift, which segues harmoniously into the darkened Americana dirge of “Second”. While “Third” ends it all on a tumult of bulldozing noise.
Bad Rides is the wholly instinctual burst of a band finding their feet. Whatever crudity it has compositionally (and there’s really nothing to complain about songwriting-wise) it captures the band ‘live’ and in their most spartan form. That alone makes for a great 7″ release.
Although Bad Rides was recorded in one brief session, Old Loaves didn’t take too much longer to record their debut album—*Drowser *was recorded over a single weekend in December 2011. Again, the band chose to work with Tim Shann (who recorded, mixed and mastered) and while the time taken to record their debut was compact, the end result is anything but.
*Drowser *is expansive, vibrant and sumptuous. It shows fantastic development in the use of more sophisticated arrangements, and the weightier production adds a great deal more heft to the material—as well as providing a more immersive ambience. The band members have clearly made good use of their time between recordings to develop their songwriting acumen. Bad Rides was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but *Drowser *trumps it in every way, shape and form (don’t let that put you off the 7″ though; it’s still well worth a listen). Drowser reflects a band given time to find their equilibrium and bring their vision to fruition.
So, two days worth of studio work and what do we have? Something extraordinarily flavorsome. The sun-baked and almost but not quite drone of the intro to “Hooks” gives way to a beautifully mantric thread. “Teeth” rides majestically atop Reid’s syncopated percussion as Ward channels the rough-edged riffs. And the fume-laden, unkempt desert whirl of “Dust” offers up a pure amp-fuzzing rocker.
The monolithic post-punk of “Their Noise” is underpinned by O’Brien’s superbly reverberating bass work. “Fools” benefits immensely from the same rhythmic device—the bass, percussion and riffs conjuring more austere climes.
“Half Ounce” and “Olshim” bring the atmospheric balladry. Flashes of tribal percussion fuel a gothic current on the former; the somber trek of the latter is reinforced by its haunting minimalism. “Wretch” kicks off with a ringing indie rock riff, and alternatively rolls and reels.
Everything that has come before coalesces on the epic “The Parade”. It’s a magnificent, towering coda that intertwines ambient, doom-laden passages with a smoldering churn. “The night’s calling out, the lights fall away,” Ward intones.
Ward, Reid and O’Brien each add their own crucial sonic ingredients. Ward’s guitar work is outstanding throughout—from the delicate and droning to the angular and barbarous. His vocals, howling or infused with rugged despair, stoke the album’s overall mood. However, Ward’s work would be nothing if not for the sterling accompaniment of Reid, whose drumming shows an admirable balance of dexterity, restraint and aggression. In turn, Reid’s work is fortified by O’Brien’s thundering and expressive bass. With each musician bolstering the work of his counterparts, Old Loaves are truly a powerhouse trio. It’s an honest equation, and a soulful one at that.
What makes Drowser (and by virtue Old Loaves) so damn good is the strong sense of thematic and musical originality that’s at play. The band have a distinctly enigmatic element—the rhythm of their material is familiar, yet outside the realm of the expected.
Identifiable composite parts make up the Old Loaves sound, but the way they fabricate their music into innovative form sets them on a course for some fascinating journeys ahead. Only the sweet, cloven-footed lord knows what we could expect if Old Loaves found themselves with a week in the studio. As it stands, the band have exceeded all expectations.* Drowser* is an outstanding debut.