By: Jamie Jones

Hotel Wrecking City Traders | website | facebook |  bandcamp | 

Released on March 18, 2016 via Evil Hoodoo

I must confess that while listening to Hotel Wrecking City Traders‘ last full release, 2014’s Ikiyro, I couldn’t help but feel that they may have reached the limits of what they could achieve. After all there has to be some sort of ceiling, a finite point somewhere on the horizon, to what can be done with 2-piece, desert-fried, stoner/psych jamming. It was a fine collection of songs, sure, full of pleasingly loose and lithe riffery, but in patches it felt a little like a band struggling to push themselves forward.

For Phantamonium they’ve drafted in second guitarist Raul Sanchez i Jorge (River of Snakes/Magic Dirt/Midnight Woolf) and to these ears they sound like a band refreshed. It helps that they’ve gone long on these 4 tracks – for my money they always shine brightest when instead of hacking up their jams into neat, shorter songs they give themselves room to stretch their muscles a little, limbering up before diving headlong into the maelstrom. Nothing is rushed on Phantamonium. This one’s designed to be a slow burner; and is all the better for it.

Jorge’s guitar seems to have brought out a meaner side to the band’s sound, with something close to a sense of gloom replacing the usual good-time stoner rock fare on opening track Dusted Pines. There’s a sense of abiding unease to itwith constant burbling guitar noise that sounds like drowning aircraft filling out the space between the usual guitar and drum interplay. Though the tone gets heavier and the track picks up pace it never quite shakes that haunted, anxious feeling. The title track, which may just be the best thing they’ve put on tape to date, goes darker still, sounding decidedly unsavory, brooding with menace. Then after 6 minutes the riff comes in and it’s like the sky comes crashing down, quickly followed by the kind of scorching solo that could drag the stars down after it.

Much like its sequel that appeared on last year’s split with Hey Colossus, ‘Droned & Disowned (pt. 1)’ doesn’t quite follow through on the ‘drone’ threat of the title. It starts out as an ever escalating layering of feedback and guitar noise, half-cocked riffs and broken melodies piled on top of each other, but Ben’s drumming is just too restless to stick to the formula, initially blooming in stop/start bursts before eventually just going all out. Before you know it Toby is following suit, riffing and soloing all over the mess of loops they’ve made. Closer ‘Entering the Lodge’, with its more straight forward driving riffing, sounds a little more like something from Hotel Wrecking City Traders’s earlier recordings – albeit bolstered by the addition of bass guitar filling the usually vacant low end position. It’s strange how different they sound with the addition of some 4 string action – it’s not something you miss exactly on the other tracks but it feels entirely right when it kicks in. The wall of guitar noise that is the defining addition to their sound on Phantamonium makes its presence felt with some soaring and descending eardrum busting phased weirdness taking what would normally be a straight up stoner banger into more psychedelic territories.

Whether or not this incarnation of Hotel Wrecking City Traders is a fleeting thing remains to be seen, but it must be said that the extra dimension the second guitar/bass adds to their sound really brings out the best in them. Anyone lucky enough to catch them live will know the brothers’ almost preternatural understanding when jamming might not be something easy for another player to slide into, but Phantamonium shows that on record they’re willing to collaborate and experiment, drawing in additional influences and taking their already exceptional interplay into new realms. They’re a band any fan of instrumental stoner or psychedelic rock should have their ears on by now. And it’s safe to say any assumptions this reviewer might have had about their potential limitations have been taken out back and given a sound kicking.

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