Estuary Blacks by Estuary BlacksRelease date: February 17, 2018
Label: Kozmik Artifactz
Hailing from Gower, a peninsula of South Wales, Estuary Blacks are a three piece band featuring Alex Bodinger (Guitars/Vocals), Dan Williams (Bass) and Tom Young (Drums). In 1956, Gower became the first area in the United Kingdom to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This might go a little way to explaining how Estuary Blacks, the band’s debut album, manages to be so utterly exceptional. Citing their influences as Mogwai, Kyuss, Godspeed You! Black Emperor ultimately culminating in the encompassing “Heavy Psych stoner” label, this collection of mainly instrumental tracks has seriously captured my attention.
The album begins with a low drone and ominous guitar lines spinning spidery pathways over the fluid backdrop. Delicate drums and cymbals combine with repetitive melodic interjections and the track swells and builds before the raucous pay-off drops and all that is left is the eerie drone again. ‘Moorings’ is a warm and encouraging opener with strong elements of Mogwai at their downbeat best.
‘Trawlers’ continues the mellow theme of the opening track but with added nomadic bass that is as deep as the ocean. The first hint of noise cracks in early as the track erupts into a metallic rage of imposing heavy guitars and monolithic drumming. This gigantic groove will have your head nodding, such is its powerful command. From out of nowhere, “Fall so helplessly” intones Alex’s voice, pure and clear, just the right amount of reverb and the melody is effortless and euphoric, seemingly at odds with the instrumentation that advocates malevolence. Halfway through, the track enters into a momentary calm with a delicate passage of stabbing guitars and clipped drums before returning to a full-on blast of mammoth riffs and crashing percussion. The final two minutes of blissed out drone is most welcome to allow you to get your breath back. Over the frazzled distorted guitars, acoustic chords tease out the melodies that will be coming your way with the next song.
As the fuzzy drone ebbs away the opening calm of ‘Fat Jason’ glides into your ears. Within an instant the jet engine blast of heavy guitars engulfs you as the track develops into a slow paced dirge of funereal drums and thick metallic slabs of distorted guitars. Then it happens, the vocals float in and embrace you and hold you tight, the moment I heard this searing melody I was hooked into everything that Estuary Blacks do. (The vocal line has a fleeting familiarity with Doves’ old indie epic ‘The Cedar Room’). The mid-section effortlessly slithers into a slippery groove of rumbling bass and fizzing guitars before shifting gear into a metallic storm. I’d love to hear this song live, the band are a three piece, but conjure up one fucking immense racket, the song ends with an intense and furious flurry of psyched out sounds. A true modern rock classic.
‘Hank Carmarvin’ is an acoustic lament that provides an oasis of calm amongst the heady mix of riffs and stoner grooves. The playing is eloquent and showcases a variation in sound and mood. Countrified twangs and delicate little melodies invoke desert scenes and deep red sunsets. It’s brave of the band to include such a passage of tranquillity but displays their influences and widescreen vision.
You can see the Mogwai influence in the random but brilliant song titles, which obviously mean more to the band than the rest of us (who is Fat Jason? Is there such a person? Will we ever know?), and ‘Caswell Brat’ gives little away. The track itself also sounds like the aforementioned Scottish greats resplendent with throbbing xylophone (?) tones, subtle guitar noodling and non-fussy drums, Estuary Blacks have a knowing way with song dynamic as the music engages and enthrals. On repeated listens (and you will want to listen to this album over and over), the transition from calm to vitriol that eventually comes makes perfect sense. We’re not just ramping up the noise for the sake of it, the music fluently completes a journey to stellar locations like a force of nature. Alex rips out one hell of a solo that Kirk Hammett would kill for and you have to remind yourself that this band are in their infancy, though I suspect there are years spent in practice rooms to get to this level of ability. Mogwai used to obliterate us with this level of raging guitars, Estuary Blacks are the new kings of incredible extremes of sound using basic instruments.
Neatly segued together as much of the album is, tracks running into one another (the GY!BE influence) album closer ‘Puris Prass’ (me neither) is anchored down by a tumbling drumbeat while shimmering guitars caress and allow Alex to tenderly tease another wonderful melody. Leaving the be(a)st to last, the song threatens to lurch into another noisy blowout before being reigned in for more verse action. That moment at 3:34 when the bass unexpectedly drops is a wake-up call and exceptionally executed. Letting off the shackles the boys cut loose with an immense collision of supercharged bass, Animal-esque drumming and dirty guitar work that again questions how many arms Alex is in possession of. The psych element makes a welcome return as the effects pedals get kicked into oblivion and the head begins to involuntarily bob up and down in unison to the monstrous grooves. As a wormhole appears to swallow up the cacophonous sound the track completely subsides before a ghostly shipping report levitates over the ethereal guitars to bring this stunning album to a climactic end.
Last year, most of us at Echoes and Dust were consumed by a mesmerising album that appeared from nowhere, by a little known band from Denver called Palehorse/Palerider. Burial Songs was named as our album of the year, by a country mile. For me, Estuary Blacks are this year’s jaw dropping band, this self-titled album is exceptional and even though it is only February, I’m laying claim to what must be one of the albums of the year.
Currently, Estuary Blacks’ Facebook page has around 300 likes, that is about to change. Covering many influences and sounds, Estuary Blacks could be a lot of people’s gateway to widening their musical horizons. It is a truly magnificent album and simply has to be heard.