You Should Have the Notion to Check Out Romero’s Take the Potion, Bro…tion
Lost in the waterlogged ruins of the Post-Metal/Sludge-Doom/Stoner-Drone wave of the mid-‘00s was the notion of writing a damn good song. Granted, the nature of the genre makes discernible songs a (sigh) hazy concept: when good or bad, it was more about seeing how far you could stretch something before it would stop being metal (or if you’re Sunn0))), ask that question then just sort of linger there for a while). Even the songs I like from that era aren’t the sorts of jams you can throw on in the car between Morbid Angel and Ke$ha tracks; they’re long, emotional journeys that require the attention of both your mind and soul, leaving you a little roughed up at the end. (One doesn’t just throw on “Ghost Trail” after a long day at work unless you have some shit to work through.) Unlike “Hammer Smashed Face” or “Chapel of Ghouls” for death metal or “Transylvanian Hunger” or “Christraping Black Metal” for black metal, you can’t think of a touchstone song to really sum up the whole genre. And again, this is the nature of the cluster under the post-metal umbrella: making challenging music that’s hard to identify.
This wouldn’t be anything worth hashing out if it weren’t for the fact that stoner/sludge-whatever was founded in songcraft. Weed haze-stained numbers by Black Sabbath, Kyuss, Monster Magnet, and even Trouble and St. Vitus were part of a considerable arsenal of songs, even if they did walk their own sinewy path. It’s worth getting lost up one’s own ass if there’s a solid foundation there before you do. Romero know this and keep their excursions to the outer reaches fairly brief and well-reined. Take the Potion, their (free!) debut, is full of riffs and hooks. You’ll find yourself humming more than a few songs on the album (that excellent new Cult of Luna only really lends itself to complex, 18-minute humming sessions). Relatively brief and with a few staggering surprises, Potion hearkens back to metal’s Sabbathian roots in a straightforward fashion.
I mention Black Sabbath for a third time already in this review for good reason: the genres that flowered off from what the band started back in the ‘70s is on full display here. Bluesy shimmies, downtuned riffs that stumble about like a drunk bull, and quieter moments that have a curdled, jazzy quality to them. The only time the record runs into problems is when the band gets too heavy: at heart, Romero are more a stoner rock band than a stoner metal one. “One Means Four” loses the personality of the band’s more focused, tuneful songs and instead sounds like solid if by-the-numbers sludge. The band are never bad in Take the Potion’s less inspiring moments, but for Romero to stand out, they have to stick with what they’re best at: good songs. Not that the record’s first half is lacking them: opener “Compliments and Cocktails” sounds like what The Sword wish they sounded like, and the title track sounds like a blazed Helmet covering Zeppelin. Even after years of bearded guys hunting down Obsessed vinyl and putting out records on Pitchfork-approved labels, it’s still nice to hear.
Take the Potion would be a pretty decent record if it wrapped up with its third-to-last track “Distraction Tree”. But instead, the album’s pretty heavily back-loaded, with the last two songs blowing the previous five out of the water. “Wheeling Deervish” is anchored in a sunburnt desert rock riff before it briefly wanders off into lead-footed doom and a psychedelically quiet middle (there’s some organ in there too, for good measure). Closer “In the Heather” is where the band do epic correctly, building up to a proper song after two minutes of patiently building dynamics. They follow it with smoky stoner rock and thunderous doom, bringing back the riff that started the whole song off. Even before Potion’s huge ending, the band shows that they’re not afraid to bring back a good riff if necessary. Romero have enough confidence to build songs around what other bands would just slap together and hope work. Even before it’s phenomenal ending, Take the Potion demonstrates Romero care just as much about taking you to the outer reaches as they do about making sure you’re satisfied before you go.
Romero’s Take the Potion is out now. You can both stream and purchase it here.