Volcanova – Radical Waves
The Sign Records
Release Date: 21/08/2020
Running Time: 44:55
Review by Steven Hooke
Ahh, stoner rock. The music of choice for horticulturists worldwide, the genre exploded out of the Palm Springs region of California back in the 90’s, adding haze and psychedelia on top of grooving blues, hard rock and even punk. It was the laid-back, chilled alternative to its neighbour to the North in Seattle’s grunge scene and championed by the likes of Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Sleep and East Coast brothers Monster Magnet. The genre has been explored and improved upon in the 20+ years since its initial breakthrough and now the latest band to step up to the mantle is three-piece Volcanova, hailing from the sunnier climes of *checks notes* Reykjavík in Iceland. Hmm.
Indeed the ashened fjords of Iceland have conjured up a trio who deliver a galvanising concoction of fuzzy, blues-heavy riffs, a jam rock atmosphere from the school of Clutch, and vocal melodies that borrow just has much from the likes of Corrosion of Conformity and Graveyard as they do with Queen and Chris Cornell. The album opens with the suitably titled ‘Welcome’, an instrumental track that shows off the slowed down, doomier side of Volcanova, before moving on to the more up-tempo, head-banging rhythm of ‘Where’s The Time?’. It is this version of the band’s sound that best describes the album, guitars plucked from latter-day Mastodon rousing away riffs that could get any room to come alive, backed by more cowbell than the entirety of Dusty Rhodes’ WWF/E career.
Further into the album, and it feels like this is where the true extent of Queens of the Stone Age-isms come into play, combining stoner fuzziness and guitar work with catchy alt rock songwriting, with ‘I’m Off’ and ‘Sushi Sam’ feeling like B-sides to 2002’s “Songs For The Deaf”. For a peak into where it could fit in with modern day contemporaries, tracks like ‘Mountain’ and the closer ‘Lights’ operate in a mid-tempo riff-storm that optimises every second of a song with brilliant transitional riffs or drum rolls, much in the same way as UK occultists Puppy.
For those truly about the groove, the tempo slows right down for ‘Stoneman’ and ‘M.O.O.D.’ but both hit just that little bit different. ‘Stoneman’ is the psychedelic doom number that makes your head bop, the drinks feel that much cooler, and the day just ease by, whereas ‘M.O.O.D.’ is more about psyching you up to bare-knuckle fist fight a tree and win.
Undoubtedly a highlight of “Radical Waves” is the three-part harmonies the lads employ. As Samúel boulders on a vibe not too dissimilar from Mike Dean-fronted CoC, Þorsteinn Árnason and Dagur Atlason back him in styles that befits each song perfectly, whether it’s a classic gang vocal backing for the existential dread of ‘Where’s The Time?’ or the conversely party vibes of ‘I’m Off’, or the previously-mentioned Queen-inspired melodies on ‘Super Duper Van’, the gravitas the vocals create at times is incredible.
The album is rounded off with a top-of-the-line production job. So easy is it to get these stoner rock albums, with all the best riffs and vocal hooks you can think of, and have them ruined by overindulging in the *aesthetic*, reducing an album to a hazy, my-first-Encore-amp blur. This is not the case for Volcanova though, as there is a perfect working harmony between the musicians and the producer that allows the riffs to slap, the bass to roll, and the cowbell to cowbell, whilst still retaining the feel of the desert heat, the background noise of a rattlesnake, and the local herbological harvest. Or whatever the Icelandic equivalent to all those things are.
“Radical Waves” then goes down as a brilliant start for the young band. Definitely in the argument for best debut rock album of 2020, may the years treat Volcanova well and allow them to knock out belters like this for years to come.
02. Where’s the Time?
03. Super Duper Van
04. I’m Off
06. Sushi Sam
09. Got Game
Samúel Ásgeirsson – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Þorsteinn Árnason – Bass, Vocals
Dagur Atlason – Drums, Vocals.
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