D’you remember Godspeed, early nineties one-album riff-rock outfit? I have to say I don’t, but I was still pretty new to metal in those days, and the main way I found new music was by discovering a mate had an interesting album that I could dub onto a C90. (So much for home taping killing music, eh?) Well, it seems Godspeed split up, reconvened, added some new players, and became Solace, who’ve had another four albums out before this, their début for Small Stone Records. Regular readers (and connoisseurs of beefy guitar music in general) will know Small Stone as a haven for all things riff-rawk, and as such Solace are well placed, but there’s more to these guys than the standard Sabbath retreads.
That said, the ghost of Sabbath hangs heavily over A.D. – no bad thing as such, even though the debt can be blindingly obvious at times – but Solace add extra ingredients to the mix for a sound all their own. The bludgeon of nineties hardcore; the jagged rhythms, harmonised leads and face-off solo-trading of thrash; the stately riffola of the darker end of the desert… all these combine into a sort of metal Megatron, vast, various and powerful, welded together like a scrapyard Frankenstein’s monster powered by high-octane gasoline and brow-furrowed anger. Frontman Jason (formerly of Glueneck, another band whose name rings only the vaguest of bells) also brings a lot of different ideas to the table, seemingly channeling some of the more classic vocal styles of the last forty years, starting (naturally enough) with the good Mr Osbourne in his prime – think of those chorused choir-of-spaced-out-Satanists wails from the classic Sabbath material – and detouring through tough-guy hardcore roars and nasal thrasher ranting. There are even moments where he sounds like he’s going to turn into Dave Wyndorf – on album closer “From Below”, for instance, and in midway-marker “Borrowed Immunity”, which sounds uncannily like Monster Magnet’s “Dopes to Infinity” spiced up with some thrash savagery – and if it’s a little frustrating that he seems to have no style that’s his and his alone, his delivery is powerful enough to keep your attention, and always feels appropriate to whatever the rest of the band is doing (a skill a lot of younger bands could really do with developing).
As is obligatory with Small Stone releases, I must mention the excellent frills-free production: when Solace hit a big open drop-D on the top beat of a new section, the tone that washes out of the speakers is enough to roll you back on your heels with a huge grin on your face. If you love the roar of fuzzed guitars punching their way out of big old valve amps, this is the label you should be subscribed to – even if the tunes aren’t totally to your taste, you can always luxuriate in the sound itself.
Which is, to some extent, exactly what I found myself doing here. I dare say if someone had handed me A.D. in 1992 I’d have gone completely apeshit for it; I was just transitioning from thrash to hardcore at the time, and Solace‘s blending of the two with classic metal beef is both timely and timeless. And I can still appreciate it now – A.D. is packed with strong songs, adventurous dynamics and powerful playing, and that never goes out of fashion in this household – but it’s a little too jagged to make my regular playlist. I guess I’m just all thrashed out these days… the horrors of getting old, eh?
But lest I accidentally sell a good album short (and end up fielding offended comments, as I did with the last Small Stone release I reviewed a few weeks back), let’s be clear: A.D. is quality stuff, and a sincerely recommended antidote to the over-faithful retro-thrash mimicry that haunts the musical marketplace. It’s a little strong for regular daily consumption, perhaps, but next time I need to psyche myself up for some serious confrontation, I’ll be seeking Solace before I leave the house.