Album review: Gringo – The Cold Burn
How good is your Boolean logic, your ability to identify which statements are true and which are as false as the front end of Pamela Anderson? Run this quick test through the working part of your brain:
There are many excellent psychedelic rock and metal bands today. There are many great space rock and comparatively few superb space metal bands. Stoner rock and metal are the chosen genres of numerous good modern bands. Many fine bands play sludge metal. Therefore Gringo plays all of those musical styles, plus a few more.
Good, you ticked them all “correct”. You can also tick this one: Gringo does it darned well, too.
Here’s how the band describes itself: “The twisted end result of a combination of influences ranging from Iommi to Einstein, hangovers to horsepower, space cadets to space exploration; unhindered by genre clichés while remaining true to the heritage of Midlands heaviness.” Hey, Gringo, I was going to say that. Well, some of it, sort of. It’s a very good summation.
“The Cold Burn” is Gringo’s admirably inventive and polished debut album. The band is based in the quaintly named market town of Cleobury Mortimer in Shropshire, England. It’s one of the places where thunder comes from. The English Midlands are good at producing thumping, pounding bands. Sabbath started there. So did Judas Priest, Napalm Death and Godflesh.
The sequence and style on the album are structured largely around psychedelic stoner metal, with guitars as heavy as anvils, a proudly prominent bass and frequent tempo and time signature changes launched by the percussion. The vocals of Marc Temple float above the music. He has an anti-gravity voice.
Interspersed among the main tracks are short passages of pure space rock played entirely on keyboards and electronic devices that haven’t been invented yet. These interludes are the musical intergalactic shuttles that transport the listener to each new destination.
Compositionally, the music reflects strong influences from 1970s psych/space rock. This leads to the comparison with Hawkwind, who were to psychedelic and space rock as Black Sabbath was to heavy metal – yes, that influential. The primary difference between Gringo and Hawkwind is that Gringo makes much less use of keyboards and much greater deployment of heavy artillery disguised as guitars.
Gringo builds a stout platform by integrating the guitar and bass lines to mesmerising effect. When Temple deviates into a solo – he’s also the lead guitarist – it’s most often a set of arpeggios that work back into the other music rather than breaking away from it. The vocals are delivered mostly within a single higher octave. The combined effect is, like, spaced out, man. Then, just when you think you’re in fixed orbit, there’s a gamma ray burst of sludge guitar to remind you that you’re somewhere other than your home planet once this music fills your head.
The terms “stoner”, “psychedelic” and even “space” used to have unfavourable connotations. They summoned up images of musicians stoned on weed or psychedelically spaced out on acid. But that was decades ago. Modern stoner and its derivatives are no more stoned than neo-classical metal is unwashed and doesn’t know what deodorants are. What we get from Gringo is music that is its own drug, a safe and smooth one that generates friendly bubbles of endorphins and cosy waves of alpha rhythms.