Reviews

Kip Wingerschmidt and Andy O’Connor Debate the Merits of ASG’s Blood Drive

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As is often the case here in the MetalSucks Mansion, recently two of our contributors didn’t agree on the quality of a new release. And since we love a good fight here at MetalSucks, we decided to let ’em both plead their case! Read their respective reviews below. Please note that the rating listed at the top of this post is an average — they each actually gave the album wildly different scores!

KIP WINGERSCHMIDT

I was not familiar with ASG’s music before hearing this album, so my context was based only on hearsay. Therefore I had an expectation that the group was purely a stoner rock affair – and they certainly portray that vibe in spades – but the sound yields so much more, and I have found my new favorite band.  Building perfectly off ASG’s previous excellent record Win Us Over, this new offering continues a wondrous blend of stoner rock, prog dynamics, and 90s-ish song structure and melody.

Guitarist/singer Jason Shi can wail like a mofo; the first vocal comparison that jumped to mind was the nasal timbre of Devin Ocampo from Faraquet & Medications, but Shi’s vocal stylings extend far beyond a single likening – his technique and choices twist and turn, taking melodies to unexpected places that fit right in and find warm-the-cockles-of-your-cold-black-heart harmonies that elevate songs to sunny summer jam status.  And in addition, Shi can scream with a raw fury that could knock down a wall, which is always nice.

The guitar playing follows in suit: many licks add a slight touch of welcome melodic dissonance as well as a dash of proggy theatrics.  But brother, the riffs!  Holy sweet Jeebus, the riffs on this album do it all, and while often sitting in the sweet spot of head-bopping stoniness they never succumb to the dumbed-down yawns that the stoner rock genre can subscribe to. Almost every riff and lick adds a fancy yet subtle flourish or tweedily-doo that gets one’s heart racing. Gone is the too-basic crush of stoner grooves – ASG’s nimble axe-men (Shi and Jonah Citty) provide frenzy in the best possible way, as well as tasty guitarmonies throughout, a whole lot of Southern flavor (the band is from North Carolina FYI), and delicate psych-friendly passages at just the right times.

The more I listen to Blood Drive, the more impressed I am by the thick backbone rhythm section of drummer Scott Key and bassist Andy Ellis; these two amply provide a necessary foundation for the rich, luscious vocals and guitar work.  As is the case with any band of this caliber, everyone plays to the tunes first and foremost, in a manner that only enriches the fantastic songwriting, which ebbs and flows from scorchers to laid-back introspective softies and beyond.  These are seriously hook-laden affairs that never sacrifice the level of sublime rockin’ heaviness.

A couple songs incorporate low, dark baritone singing that adds another dynamic element to the record. My guess is this must be courtesy of another member, but can’t find any info online about it.  Help me, web detectives!  In any case, the lower-tone singing is a pleasant departure from the regular higher-register vocal melodies, and in these cases it almost sounds like Peter Steele or Mark Lanegan lent guest vocals!

All in all, this is a delicious listen that will undoubtedly amplify your level of self-gratification.  My favorite album of the year so far.

4 1-2 horns

(4.5 out of 5 horns)

ANDY O’CONNOR

Blood Drive, the fifth album from North Carolina’s ASG, is a fine rock record. Not astounding, not unlistenable, fine. Since they are from the Tar Heel State, they’ve got plenty of that down south boogie. Skynyrd, Eyehategod, Jim Dandy’s painted-on white leather pants, a little Lizzy from the skies where Phil rests, all those influences are there. Matt Hyde, who produced the album, also worked with Fu Manchu, and it shows. “Children’s Music” is catchy enough so that junior will take a harder look at those Squires at Guitar Center. They rock alright, but they don’t charge too hard or throw in anything complicated. Tempers boil a bit during “Hawkeye,” but things get back to level-heading rocking soon enough. Rock n’ roll to them is nether a marathon for athletics or mathletics. We Southerners take life a little slower than our peers out north and out west. ASG know full well that Tuesday’s gone with the wind, and so are a lot of other days. “Earthwalk,” which sounds like Hawkwind brought down to earth, makes for good strolling in twilight, after you’d had a some of those strawberries brined in moonshine. “Blues for Bama” is pretty dang mellow too, but why are they so down on the tide? Roll, ASG, roll.

Check out that album cover. What a beaut. Malleus needs to commission a print. Wouldn’t it look ever better if you glared at it baked? Her hair is, like, a golden river, maaan. But not that kind of golden river. We’re not dealing with Paul Ledney/Jesus Christ fanfic here.

This record will not inspire a revolution. Genocide won’t cease, inequality will still persist, people will still listen to Fleetwood Mac. The more records get released, the more things stay the same. You won’t see the dudes on the covers of guitar magazines, promising the secret to their licks. This record probably won’t be hailed as a classic 20 years from now, but stranger things have happened. Do ASG care? Probably not.

They’ll use it as an excuse to tour. What, you think record sales matter? All the money’s in merch and live shows, allegedly. Most likely, if you live in a big city, they’ll come to your town, to a bar that hosts touring rock acts. People will complain on their Facebook page to play their bumfuck locale where ASG couldn’t draw even if they tried, but pay no matter to them. Perhaps you’re the sociable type and will do a whiskey shot or three with the band. Get everyone loosened up. You got work the next day? This is their job, man up and down that Old Grandad. After shots and soundchecks, they’ll jam out a set, somewhere around 30 to 45 minutes in length. Front row will headbang, rest of the place just stares, everyone claps. Someone will likely record the show, and the resulting Youtube fodder will sound more like Merzbow than ASG. Thank you for coming out. It’s great to be back in [city]. This is our last song. We’ve got merch in the back. Tip your bartenders. (Putting my snarkiness aside for a minute, you really SHOULD tip your bartenders.) Goodnight. Everyone goes to bed, whether it’s an actual bed or a van or a floor. Next day comes, people go to work, band hits the next city.

It’s a fine rock album. That’s all there is to it. If you’re already an ASG fan, how did you make this far? You’ll like it, my scribbling be damned.

2 1-2 horns

(2.5 out of 5 horns)

ASG’s Blood Drive comes out May 28 on Relapse. You can listen to the song “Avalanche” here and pre-order the album here.

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