Review: Acid Mammoth – Caravan
One foot in the tar pit.
Acid Mammoth took a running start into 2020 last January. Now with the label backing of Heavy Psych Sounds, the band stomped out of the gates with Under Acid Hoof, one of the finest stoner doom records on offer that entire year, and showed a good deal of evolution from their self-released debut. Whereas their self-titled drew out for nearly an hour, Under Acid Hoof tightened things down to 35 minutes of distinct, dynamic and decisively designed doom. Arranged with an ear for building tension through tight, choppy rhythms and releasing it with swaggering, swinging breakdowns, it was an unusually original entry into the stoner scene. But like all the rest of us, they found their momentum deadened by quarantine when they should have been touring on this slice of genius. In the meantime, they’ve put together a follow-up, or perhaps a companion piece? In any event, it’s called Caravan, and it certainly is following the leader.
You could easily compare the two albums, song by song. 5 tracks each, with roughly proportional run times, the sole exception being Caravan‘s title tune, which tacks on an extra three minutes and change to its counterpart. It seems to be making a point of being Under Acid Hoof Volume 2, but Acid Mammoth seem to have lost some of the edges they had last go around. “Berserker” starts off at full clip, or at least as full clip as a stoner band gets, with sliding single string melodies pushing up at you with staggered peaks. The second guitar orbits around, providing varied harmonies around the stabbing rhythm. And wow, is that the chorus already? The song breezes into the solo and then out the same way it came, and it feels strangely underwhelming. Is the riffage wrong? Are the leads weak?
The leads aren’t weak and neither are the riffs, but they’re not working as a team. The song feels like it’s on repeat, there are no real peaks or valleys to it. Each little riff has that Acid Mammoth charm to it, but they’re too similar to play off one another like in “Them”, the opener of Under Acid Hoof. It becomes a one-note slog, even though the riffs are perfectly functional. “Psychedelic Wasteland” suffers from the same problem, but for 9 minutes instead of just 5. The song feels like it spends the entire time getting ready to arrive, but that dependable rocking turnaround passage never comes. The caravan seems to have no destination.
It’s not a dud of a record, by any stretch. The back half definitely shows some more thoughtful songwriting, with the main riffs from “Ivory Tower” showing evolution as the song goes on, and “Black Dust” featuring some portions that, while not quite sturdy enough to carry an entire song, are at least a bit more multi-faceted and not so out-of-the-box doom. The title track is the strongest slice of the bunch, coming the closest to the versatile, fully functional doom engine of days past: Well-supported and distributed riffs that make the entire band feel more awake, with leads and rhythm backing each other up while maintaining independence, drums and bass guiding the way ahead. A procession of very heavy beasts, each their own, but all of the same kin, just like the title says.
The record definitely suffers from the weaker openers, though. In a genre this focused on building and maintaining effective momentum, the first third is stuck in the mire with no chance to stretch. By the time we hit “Caravan”, the band shakes off the muck and starts to return to form, but they’ve just gotten warmed up by the time it closes out. As it turns out, the real strength of Under Acid Hoof was the arrangement. There were plenty of hooks to go around, and Caravan boasts its fair share as well, but they aren’t set up to contrast with one another as sharply. The songs feel a bit too single-minded, a trap that many doom bands find themselves stuck in when they decide jamming one feel is all they want to do.
With the one year turnaround, I think that Acid Mammoth may have needed some more time to mix-and-match their ideas to make them stand out against others in the same song. A little extra time to bake might have yielded the desired results. Better yet, break up the first two tracks and cannibalize them for break riffs elsewhere. Caravan already seems intended as an expansion pack to Under Acid Hoof, but a tight EP would be as functional a continuation as another full-length. Especially if, as I suspect, the purpose of this release is to try and get some buzz back on the band as they shake off the dust and get ready for another shot at live shows in a few months. As it is, we get a competent but lesser image of the original, a cave painting compared to a colossus.