[Cover art by Adam Burke / Nightjar Illustration]
Full disclosure: These days I tread rather cautiously when roaming the realms of stoner rock / stoner metal. Hell, to be honest, “stoner” as a genre modifier in general… Not really my favorite. But I also get it: We attach the word to “heaaaavvvyyyy, mannnnn” music that goes down particularly well when we’re pinned to the cushions via kush. Never mind the fact that it applies to most any music not expressly intended to cause discomfort, and that probably half the bands tagged as “stoner” today would possibly rather be considered “psych” or just, I dunno, “fuzzy.” Futile grumbling aside, I still jump into the stoner pool fairly regularly, because doing so continues to unearth gems I genuinely love—Slift’s wonderful Ummon (2020) and Lowrider’s Refractions (how the hell was that way back in 2019?) immediately spring to mind as examples. Something that’s become pretty clear over the years, though, is the truth that simply plodding along and throwing the occasional bong hit sample does little to hold my attention, so please, for the love of Cheech & Chong, weave in some folky outcrops, twists of garage punk, or plenty of proggy thrill to give the adventure a little embellishment.
Thankfully, Chicago’s REZN knows what’s up, as they are certainly no strangers to boundary pushing over the last 5-plus years or so. It’s worth noting that it’s taken me… Well, basically right up until fairly recently to fully recognize just how adventurous they can be, and that’s largely rooted in yet another admittedly trivial intolerance of mine: bands that opt for obvious names within their respective offshoots. Don’t be Ditchweed Bongulator if you’re a stoner band, and get your fat asses back to the drawing board if you’re a doom band called Dume.
Anyway, it wasn’t until one of our very own threw a spotlight on REZN’s third full-length, 2020’s Chaotic Divine, that I realized just how much potential was afoot. That record impressed me, particularly the deeper tracks, but clocking in at over an hour offered up a unique barrier of its own. By contrast, full-length number four, Solace, gets the job done in a surprisingly tidy 40 minutes, but within that relatively succinct trip is the most adventuresome face REZN has managed to date. Put simply (for those who prefer tidy reviews), Solace floored me right from the jump—the sort of experience that inspires a new listener such as yours truly to thoroughly explore every single step taken prior to a brand new leveler. I was not, however, expecting to stumble upon the following release:
I’m not even sure how to properly express how pleasantly thrown I was upon discovering and fully assimilating 2020’s Infected Ambient Works. Yes, of course exploration of fully ambient realms by heavy bands is hardly anything new, but stack this particular album next to any other contender and I will be very comfortable placing my wager on the horse named after weed residue. Throw Infected Ambient Works at Resident Advisor or a label like Boomkat and they’d suddenly find themselves interested in gobbling down more. Pitch it to Pitchfork and they’d… Well, they’d probably give it a 6.5, but they’d give their own gam-gam’s homemade sweet potato pie a 6.5 if Earl Sweatshirt isn’t involved. Suffice to say, as a very eager and longtime absorber of electronic music, I give the ambient face of REZN ( / Catechism) my enthusiastic support, which is relevant to this conversation because Solace essentially comes across like an ideal collision between Infected Ambient Works and 2020’s Chaotic Divine.
Let’s jump in.
1. “Allured by Feverish Visions” [7:32]
The album opens with a very smooth, drifty and dark instrumental that’s largely relaxed and feels more ghostly than it actually does feverish. The riffs are as long as a brontosaurus’ back, and occasional dashes of flute flutter in the backdrop to help snare the attention. “Allured by Feverish Visions” doesn’t try to do too much beyond setting the stage for the full trip, and it makes it pretty clear early on that the album is intended to be taken in as a whole. At over 7 minutes long, it would be a stretch to call it an intro, but it actually does serve rather nicely as precisely that.
2. “Possession” [5:56]
A rollicking little Cangelosi bass-line grounds “Possession” from the jump, and then we’re quickly treated to what must be considered one of the most unique features of the band: that shimmery shoegaze veneer that, when paired with Rob McWilliams light & airy voice, gives the overall mood a very relaxed dream pop sense that’s honestly not all that far removed from a modern band like Wild Nothing. And let me tell you, I nearly drove myself to the brink trying to come up with the notably un-metal band this face of REZN conjures, and while the parallels between REZN and Wild Nothing very definitely end there, I will freely admit pairing the two bands back to back over the last couple weeks has offered up an interesting and altogether pleasant experience. The dreaminess of “Possession” prrrretty much gets kicked to the curb once that belting heaviness hits around 4:15, though. Ouellett’s keyboard textures in the backdrop still manage to keep things floaty, like watching fat meteor strikes amidst a dream-state apocalypse where you somehow understand everything’s being witnessed from a safe distance.
3. “Reversal” [7:45]
If you’re worried REZN’s gone totally soft, “Reversal” is here to slowly pulverize your bones into powder, like the most sympathetic car crusher one could ever imagine. It’s an interesting name for the song, as it’s the first cut on Solace that puts the planetary weight on the front end and the driftier bits toward the back end. Spacey bloops and distant shooting stars eventually pepper the backdrop as Dunn’s steady rhythm keeps things nailed to a leisurely pace. The overall mood is shadowy, with moments of light breaking through when McWilliams drops a wonderfully melodic little fret-run around the 2-minute mark that’s swaddled further by Cangelosi’s Geezer’d bass—a move that’s repeated throughout the song to great effect. The weight here is immense and glacial, like the most gradual beat of wings from a godhead dragon so big it carries an entire world on a single silvered molar. The bits of acoustic guitar here feels like a new development, and it’s a factor that definitely adds to the overall solemnity.
4. “Stasis” [7:40]
Amigos, this here’s the stretch that makes any price of admission seem like a pin-drop in the ocean. Like the song that precedes it, it’s the front end of “Statis” that delivers the bulk of the force, but this time the riffs and overall mood are notably brighter, bringing to mind a coastal glow similar to the smoothest moments of Mammatus’ The Coast Explodes, or the wonderful self-titled debut from Mars Red Sky. There’s a real hook to McWilliams pleasant and repeated delivery of “Feels like I’ve been here before,” and the swing of those big riffs breaks the mood out of the haze in a most satisfying manner. By the 3:45 mark, everything suddenly and seamlessly shifts to a beautifully grey and quiet stretch that’s just a touch goth-friendly in the most wonderful “softer side of Vaura” kind of way. McWilliam’s catchy refrain of “Feels like I’ve been here before / beyond the vanishing door / visions of silver and gold / can’t tell what’s real anymore” is even more warm and welcoming, and then BAM: a planet-sized riff lands just before 5:00, reminding us that REZN is also here to level. It would be easy for the band to end the song on such a contrastingly weighty moment, but instead they find a new and even more absorbing way to pull the listener back into the warmth of yet another easy passage. Here, Ouellette steps into the spotlight with some wonderfully humming synth breakouts that could or could not be modulated flute riffs, and then the song spends the last minute slowly breaking free and drifting flawlessly into the ensuing “Faded and Fleeting.”
5. “Faded and Fleeting” [3:32]
My fricken word, what a wonderfully soothing and notably noir little trip this song is. “Faded and Fleeting” picks up that cozy ethereal wave vibe from “Stasis” and finally delivers the album’s only sax solo from Ouellette. It’s of course wonderfully cushy and seductive, that lengthy sax solo, and you will absolutely benefit from a fresh bongload before this soft giant pushes you into the coziest of clouds before heading into the record’s rather tumultuous closer.
6. “Webbed Roots” [7:53]
“Webbed Roots” closes the album on a multicolored note—it’s of course dreamy and lifting, with McWilliam’s voice piloting us even deeper into the firmament; it’s slow & leaden, with sporadic synth laser shots coloring the corners with bits of brightness; it’s abruptly lively, with a snappy drum pattern bolstered by a bit of meditative spoken word (Marie Davidson); and it’s particularly thicc, with late inning bomb riffs and what feels like the album’s only true guitar solo landing just before things suddenly charge toward the close at a surprisingly quick clip. That familiar serenity returns for the closing minute+, though, restoring the drifting otherworldliness that first kicked off the record, and closing things out on a notably chill note. A fitting end to a superbly balanced record.
As a final point, I haven’t been able to shake Elder from my brain amidst the whole process of assimilating Solace. REZN doesn’t really sound very much like Elder, mind you, but the way this record has caused me to recognize how a band can still approach psych / stoner / doom from a truly unique perspective absolutely adds to the overall advantage of Solace. Where Elder found exceptionally absorbing ways to spice their brew with a progressive rock slant—fully realized on a record like Reflections of a Floating World—REZN has found wholly new pastures by seamlessly spinning long, honeyed strands of reflective dream pop / electro synth into their picture. That familiar and solemn heaviness that’s always been at the crux of the McWilliams / Cangelosi / Dunn trinity is of course still there, but the addition of Ouellette and an increased underscoring of his role over the years has definitely pushed REZN into a sphere of its own. Balance is key, and the manner in which these four manage to blend worlds on a record like Solace not only pushes the genre forward, it speaks to the impressive dexterity of each player involved. So, yeah, by now it probably goes without saying: I very much look forward to hearing where REZN leads us next.
An initial allotment of Solace LPs limited to 300 sold out long ago, but REZN will be announcing a fresh run of LPs and CDs for preorder today, so interested parties should keep a sharp eye on their bandcamp page.