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Bill Goodman of the legendary stoner/heavy/psych blog The Soda Shop once included a band named Switchblade Jesus in one of his compilations. This was in 2012, and the band, at that point, had three songs to their name: a split venture falling through had left them with these and they had seen fit to distribute it freely on bandcamp. When I checked them out, Switchblade Jesus became a testament to the fact that a band needs not an extensive, double-digit back catalogue, or a big name, or even anything more than three songs to make an impression and/or show potential. From this untitled EP, the Corpus Christi quintuplet (now-quartet after the departure of Pete Quarnstrom during the debut’s mini-tour) got down and dirty, managing to press out their debut one year after. Which is why we’re here.
Switchblade Jesus is, for all intents and purposes, a stoner metal band, but their musical exploits cover a wider range than simply that. There are bits of heavy rock and even psych rock put into their sound – incorporating as much groove as can be packed in a single riff, pronounced bass, a very sharp drum sound and heaviness on a level that wouldn’t be expected from such an outfit, all under the sauce of throaty vocals and down-to-Earth lyricism. So let’s go and take a look at one of the most promising bands I’ve heard of had to offer for a full-length.
At the core of the Switchblade Jesus sound is the illegitimate child (born of a three-way between) stoner rock, stoner metal and heavy rock. The tracks have a rough-cut quality to them; the sounds are rough around the edges, somewhat dry but also unique, heavy, fuzz-laden and razor-sharp. The throaty vocals of Pete Quarnstrom put a face to the scene where the music is concerned, but the entire band creates something akin to dry-shaving with a straight razor while sweating under the Nevada heat, before hitting the desert road to get into some low-down hide where dry throats ease thirst with a shot of whiskey. It is stoner rock to its very bones, but brings more than simply a genre staple to the table. The marriage of that with heavy rock and slight psych rock grooves brings a more complex, yet simpler approach to the sound, but also creates a groovier, yet softer edge that makes the emergent hybrid a joy to hear.
One thing that is understood by Switchblade Jesus is that less is more. Unlike some stoner metal / rock bands who throw in a dozen or so riffs per song, thus often sacrificing cohesion, Switchblade Jesus prefers to use one or two riffs. However, this scarcity doesn’t make the music anything less, in fact, it contributes immensely to the overall sound. The album makes sure that songs have extremely memorable, extremely enjoyable and beyond-the-pale groovy riffs in small numbers, but it makes them count. One is all you need to carry a song sometimes, but that one has to be very well-written and must play out with enough groove, force and presence to be able to lift an entire five minutes, which Bastard Son pulls off seemingly without breaking a sweat.
For this album, mid-tempo is God. Songs drift back and forth between the slightly lower mid-tempo (Bastard Son, Oblivion) or the higher vistas of mid-tempo (Copperhead, Renegade Riders.) At first glance, this pacing makes it sound like the album is more underwhelming than it actually is, as the album’s primary feeling is one of comfort, not in-your-face riffing. Some songs, like Sick Mouth, Copperhead or Oblivion drive the listener onwards with the sheer brute force of the riffs stomping down and dragging along the soggy carcass under the heel. Oblivion in particular is a double-offender for this, as it carries a bit of a sludge metal influence with the way it chooses to pound on the riff, and comes off as a twist in the overall inclinations of the rest of the album – this is a good thing, as it provides the twist without going out of sync with the overall feel.
One objection I have to the album itself is Into Nothing, the acoustic instrumental intro. Personally, I have very rarely (if ever) witnessed such intros serving any kind of purpose, and thus find it superfluous. But this is more of a personal preference, as my favourite intro of all time has been Black Spiders’ “Sons of the North” where the album just sort of starts. Another complaint would have been that the three-track EP that sparked my interest in this band (which contained the song Copperhead) was a bit more supercharged in its explosive energy, but the refinement of the sound into the form it takes in the debut is hardly inferior to that, and if anything, displays development, so kudos for that.
The debut of Switchblade Jesus is one of the hidden gems of the stoner rock scene, often overlooked in favor of the bigger names, which is a damn shame. The band itself has undergone a bit of a turmoil when the choir-trained vocalist Pete Qarnstorm departed, and the vocal duties have since been taken up by guitar player Eric Calvert, who reportedly had added a touch of Clutch. I think it would be safe to say that Switchblade Jesus will continue to bring it, and continue to evolve, and I would advise anyone with even the slightest interest in the fuzz-infested parts of rock to check them out.
Grade: 9 / 10