Israel’s Dukatalon is the latest entrant into the increasingly crowded field of vaguely sludgy stoner doom that this particular writer absolutely refuses to refer to as having anything to do with facial hair. Still, the very mention of a word that starts with ‘b’ and rhymes with ‘weird’ will probably do a fairly tidy job of describing the general sound of this three-piece: The riffs are slow and thick; the playing is focused but uncluttered; the production is alternately viscous and muddy; and the vibe is generally pissed-off. Nevertheless, the main failing of the album is that it ends up stuck in a somewhat unpleasant zone of indecision between a cleaner stoner sound and a filth-caked, red-eyed sludge.
Opener “Peis” kicks things off with a nice wave of feedback and stomping riffs before eventually settling into an almost boogie-style loping groove. One of the most persistent problems with this album presents itself early, in the form of the caustic near-black vocals which are buried way too far in the mix. Still, about halfway through the song, the band drops into a bruising slow burn, which is when they really hit their stride, all bluesy soloing over no-nonsense, head-down riffing. Songs like this show real promise, but much of the rest of the album fails to keep that promise. The main riff on “ZX” is quite effective, backed by the insistent, steadily crushing drums, but then it drags on for two minutes longer than ought to be allowed.
Apart from running an idea doggedly into the ground, the band also strays too often from playing actual riffs, and the songs instead become about grooves. This would all be well and good, I suppose, except that the damn things just aren’t groovy enough to sustain the lack of movement. Take the song “Run”: for the first minute or so, it kicks out a riff that grabs me by the scruff of the neck and shakes me mercilessly. Then it apparently grows tired of holding my attention and breaks into a mid-paced trudge as awkward and endless as your first slow dance.
The title track’s jangly acoustic guitar is a palate cleanser, blotting the dull taste of grooveless purgatory from one’s mind. The deep, menacing bass that opens “Electric Site” is more like it, featuring tight, martial snare work that again grabs the listener and hurls her unceremoniously down a howling tunnel of RIFFS. This is far and away the best tune here, despite the fact that it sounds lifted straight from Sleep’s Holy Mountain. Although it is the album’s longest, it deploys the lurching heft and masterful pacing of grand riff-thunder so expertly that I wish it droned out massively for the entire album, à la Dopesmoker. “Gate Of Mind” is almost equally brilliant, so it’s a shame that these two tracks are followed up by the mediocre “Mekonenet,” which tries to crescendo by breaking out into a one-note moshfest, but instead ends up chugging along like Meshuggah’s slow, sickly cousin.
Dukatalon seems like a band fighting with itself. I’m no genre purist, but there’s a vast difference between seamlessly blending elements of disparate styles (what’s up, Kvelertak?) and the confused fence-sitting of not quite committing full-throttle to a particular aesthetic. Dukatalon fits this latter description rather too ably, not certain whether they should adhere to the corrosive, nihilistic sludge tradition of Eyehategod et al, or the cleaner, groovier stoner vibe of Kyuss and friends. This is typically the place where I would suggest that Dukatalon needs a bit more time to forge their own identity, but in fact, the songs which put the idiot grin on my face and the urge to launch a chair through a window squarely in my mind are the songs which sound most like other bands. Anyone know the Hebrew word for ‘sleep’?