Review: Bort – Crossing The Desert

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We’re definitely gonna need more of those license plates.

One look at Bort‘s album art will probably tell you what I was expecting when I clicked this:

The desert, the spaceman, the smoke, the… four-eyed fox… okay, couldn’t think of an example there, but the point is, this looked a lot like strictly by-the-book stoner rock to me, and while their name afforded them a little benefit of the doubt, I was only planning to get a quick impression of how much they ape the greats and then be outta there. Little did I know I was about to embark on the first tour of my second awesome doom discovery this year, one that seemed to threaten Black Wizard‘s spot on the AOTY list… for a while. But let’s start at the beginning.

While the trippy intro sample is still kind of par for the course, once the guitar set in, my expectations were beginning to be subverted. It’s tone is sombre, yet dynamic, none of those heavy, droning guitars or atmospheric weirdness meant to set the stage for supposed mental expansion. Instead of the umpteenth esoteric journey through space, this seemed to promise something bigger with a lot more facets. The beginning notes of “The Beerfileds of Bridgeview” surprised me yet again, ringing out almost clearly and shrilly like an alarm clock with a post-hardcore or even noise rock urgency before the song settles into a bouncy southern rock riff – the first time the band sounds remotely close to what I was expecting.

While the song’s rhythm promises a stompin’ good time, the melody of the vocals in both the verses and the chorus begins to cash in on the promise of the intro. The singer’s soft cleans in the verses remind me of The Mushroom River Band, while the harsher rasp in the chorus is closer to Orange Goblin, but the wonderful melancholic tinge is all his own. So is the scream at the end of the bridge; these outbursts remain an exception throughout the album, but that makes them all the more effective. By the time I heard “Worldbane”, I’d fully given up on the idea that this was any old stoner rock album, and the defiant, up-beat main riff seemed to pelt me with rocks for my ignorance while the vocals spread a thoroughly different vibe than on the previous track, sitting somewhere between the two styles and enhanced with clever backing vocals… and pretty badass lyrics, to be honest:

I’m tearing off my skin
Awakening my mind
To all that’s ever been
I’ve slit the yearning throat of time
And worn the face of gods
At masquerades sublime

(…)

False kings and prophets scream my name
Worldbane

Another curve ball awaits in “Hello, Mr. Thompson”. The intro and main riff seem like something that could have come out of 90s grunge, perhaps Soundgarden. The chorus depicts a clash between the beauty and wonder of space and the mind’s inability to withstand it. The outro after the last chorus strongly reminds me of Tool, and from here on out, I was more than unsure what to expect.

I was therefore almost glad when “Sacraments & Bayonets” reeled things back into more familiar territory by being a rather straightforward ballad, albeit not without a killer chorus that harkens back to that earlier melancholy. Unfortunately, this is the beginning of a downward slope. “Lady Kyteler” boasts a really fun riff and brings some more of that grunge energy in the verse, but as opposed to every song that’s gone before, it’s hard to hear anything other than a pretty standard rock song, and I can’t really find anything memorable. “Well Respected Man” seems to be going for a similar vibe, but comes off a good deal less energetic and has the misfortune of also falling flat lyrically (“Take off that three-piece suit / ‘Cause your tie’s strangling your soul” – oh boy). “The Flood” manages to win me back a little bit with some snake-charming guitarwork and one or two cool parts, but by this point, the magic is pretty much gone.

Given these blunders, my patience is severely strained when “Soul Eater” comes in with its corny first part, complete with super-corny lines à la “Quit with the teasin’ and start with the pleasin'”, although a look at the lyrics, handily available on the Bandcamp page, revealed that things take quite a different turn than I had suspected. For the continuation of that story, the song morphs into quite a different beast around the four-minute mark. It sounds a lot like a part from QOTSA‘s “No-One Knows”, but there’s no deying it’s pretty damn fun. So is the continuing cornyness, with a choir of backing vocals repeating the lines of the chorus like in an old school rock ‘n’ roll song. And eventually, there’s a third part, with a sudden shift into melancholic, post-rockish territory that could have well been a separate outro track. While not the most coherent, it’s a strong enough finish to make me forget the troubles that came before, but only in the short run. Yet the balance is ultimately in favour of the good material; while I’m not sure if the second half will grow on me, I also can’t see myself getting bored of the first. It’s beautiful, catchy as hell, and brings enough ideas to the table to pull the rating up to

3 out ov 5 Flaming Toilets

Crossing The Desert came out back in April and is available digitally and on CD here. Keep up with the band here.

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