Read the Review of the SWITCHBLADE JESUS debut here:
Switchblade Jesus, Switchblade Jesus: Wolves and Copperheads
Initially a 2013 self-release by the band on CD, the self-titled debut full-length from Corpus Christi, Texas-based heavy rockers Switchblade Jesus gets another look in 2014 thanks to a vinyl issue courtesy of Bilocation Records. The 35-minute album was greeted with a flurry of hyperbole upon its first arrival, so one expects an LP edition to be a welcome advent. The eight-track offering marks the last appearance in Switchblade Jesus of vocalist Pete Quarnstrom, his duties having since been taken over by guitarist Eric Calvert, joined in the now-four-piece by guitarist Billy Guerra, bassist Jason Beers and drummer Jon Elizondo, and finds the burly rockers engaged in comfortably-paced post-Pepper Keenan-era C.O.C. Southern-style heavy riffery, straightforward structures led by the guitars being underscored solidly by the rhythm section from “Bastard Son”‘s easy sway to the highlight closer “Oblivion,” which offers a more complex take. Much of what they have to offer throughout will be familiar in a songs-about-whiskey vein, shades of Clutch showing up on “The Wolves” while a Down influence seems to march hand in hand with a markedly unfortunate tinny snare sound on “Renegade Riders.” Quarnstrom, who vacated after a mini-tour in support of the album, mostly lets the riffs be his guide and is less “hey whoa mama yeah” than some I’ve heard in the I’m-a-bluesy-white-dude pastiche, but it winds up almost too easy to stick him in that category anyway, his approach aligning neatly with a staple trope within the current sphere of American heavy rock that one has been able to find in bands from all over the country, not just Texas or the South.
If that’s a sticking point for you, then Switchblade Jesus‘ Switchblade Jesus is going to take all the more exposure to find favor despite, though I wouldn’t say it’s incapable of doing so. Following the opening introduction “Into Nothing,” “Bastard Son” sets much of the tone for what’s to follow in aesthetic and pace, songs like “The Wolves” and “Sick Mouth” changing their pants, sonically speaking, but essentially moving on the same legs. There are touches of boogie to be had in “Sick Mouth,” and the tempo is somewhat quicker, but there’s an element of a comfort zone being established across the board here in booze-fueled riff rock that’s all well and good since they make it work, but also bound to be familiar to listeners who’ve encountered this kind of dudely groove before. I’m not inclined to rag on a relatively new band — formed in 2010 — for not having developed a complex stylistic take on their first outing; it just doesn’t seem fair. If Switchblade Jesus are setting themselves up for future creative development, then fine. I get some sense of that from “Oblivion,” but songs like “Equinox” and “Copperhead” show less of a tendency to shift atmosphere or mood, and Switchblade Jesus comes off less varied for it. The acoustics on “Into Nothing” and the sort of cinematic soundscaping that accompanies lead one to expect a certain amount of ambience that the rest of the album seems to have no ambition to fulfill, instead burrowing into a well-worn brand of heavy rock that’s endearing enough to get them through the relatively brief 35 minutes of their debut, but will want more variety moving forward. If switching Calvert to a vocalist/guitarist role helps expand Switchblade Jesus‘ songwriting methodology, then it can only be a change for the better on the part of the band.
My intention here isn’t to rip on Switchblade Jesus or to discount the quality of their craft and presentation. They’re a more than engaging heavy rock act and only set themselves up on their first outing to grow, but for me to sit here and talk about how they’re revolutionizing the form would be disingenuous and in service neither to the band nor anyone else who might make it to the third paragraph of this review. After making my way again through to “Oblivion,” I hear nothing in Switchblade Jesus‘ sound that says they can’t use this album as the beginning of a sonic expansion that keeps the lack of pretense that works so well here, but they still have to be the ones to do it, and Switchblade Jesus, as a full-length, almost makes what it does sound too easy. “Bastard Son” nestles into this swaggering stoner groove and you go, “Okay, very cool, now what?” but the answer to the question is essentially more of the same, and by the time “Renegade Riders” rolls around, you’re clinging to even the smallest shifts in tempo as some sign that there’s more to Switchblade Jesus than they’re showing. That’s not an effort a casual listener is going to make. Good for Switchblade Jesus getting a number of people on their side and nailing down a vinyl release for what is — let me again emphasize — still a quality debut, but the hyperbole around it does nothing useful in portraying a progression at its beginnings as already complete. Switchblade Jesus have growing to do, and as well they should. There’s nothing wrong with that, and to pretend otherwise is silly and unproductive.