Originally written by Keith Fox.
Alchemical doom. That’s the tag I read the lead vocalist use to describe California-based Jex Thoth’s sound in a Decibel Magazine piece on the band. Sounds about right. I don’t love genre tags, but this band was causing me all kinds of confusion before alchemical doom clicked with me and made sense of the tunes on their debut full-length here. This isn’t exactly proto-doom – but fans of all things heavy, slow and early 70s should dig it. And it’s not just throwback psychedelia because there’s something more, well, pagan involved in the acid-drenched, forest-dwelling jams here. Alchemical doom, then. But genre tags don’t matter and I’m sorry for dragging that old skeleton out of the closet. On to the music.
It’s awesome. I can’t stop listening to it. You may recognize the name of a band called Totem. Well, they changed their name to Jex Thoth (the singer’s stage name). So if you picked up Totem’s debut EP (also quality), get this. Another reason to check this out: Albert Witchfinder (ReverendBizarre) provided the cover art for the album. For those of you unfamiliar with Totem, the band is fronted by a female vocalist and she plays a central role in the proceedings, musically and in the mix, which might be a deal breaker for you if you don’t particularly jibe with her unique and powerful clean style. (At times friends in the car thought I was listening to some unreleased Jefferson Airplane track). The music is heavy and laid way back, led by organs and Sabbath-inspired riffs, full of flutes, spaced-out effects and synths, and a generally fuzzed-out, drugged, lumbering but light-headed feeling. There are bongos, too, just so you know that healthy amounts of green were involved.
I have trouble putting my finger on what exactly makes this album so wonderful for me. It’s not the riffs alone, though they’re great, and it’s certainly not the vocal delivery; on a few occasions, Jex’s over-the-top performance can be more of a distraction than an addition to the otherwise great music. Part of it’s the mix – she’s far too high. And part of it’s that her style is just too powerful for me sometimes. And the lyrics (I don’t have the lyric sheet) seem to fall a bit short. But by and large I can’t get enough of her, her voice really carries these songs to far-away heights when everything clicks, as on “Warrior Woman” or “Separated on Birth.” Still, the best parts are the lulls, the trippy jams, the far-out organ solos. I suppose, then, this album works so well for me because it succeeds at setting a mood, at conjuring up the perfect atmosphere and pacing it with the music, leading me on an entrancing journey every time I press play. The “Equinox Suite” parts A-D are where all of their atmospherics take center stage, and the music floats along a groove perfect for sitting back and exploring worlds unseen with your best herb. “Stone Evil” presents all of their strong suits in a shorter track. Really, the only track I don’t dig the hell out of is the Bob Trimble cover “When the Raven Calls.” Again, the reason is the sometimes grating vocals.
So I highly recommend this album. It’s all well-done and not once do I get the feeling that the band is approaching the style ironically. This is late 60s/early70s music performed by people that (I imagine) worship that era and take its sounds very seriously. If you like Jex’s singing, and proto-doom and psychedelic music in general, there should be nothing keeping you from loving this.