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A Trip For the Ages: Solar Haze - Self-titled Review

The California quartet come out of the void with a weapons-grade crossover crusher.

Photo by Aimee Martinez

The concepts of the cosmos intertwined with the lore of smoke-addled worlds of dope have been a constant in the metal scene since the early days of Black Sabbath, and are as sacred to us as Sleep's Dopesmoker. Much like salt and pepper, the elements of a psychedelic culture conform seamlessly to the soundscape of heavy metal in a way that sounds as if was meant to be there all along. That smooth lick, that droning echo that permeates through your skull, the endless thumping drum that sounds as if a Martian tribe is beating on your coffin lid; these are the facets of stoner metal, and when the influence of California-born punk and thrash bleed through that, you're left with one groovy fusion of the best of both worlds. SOLAR HAZE is the child of all of these genres, and their self-titled album is the subject of our dissection here today.

Without delay, Hawk in the Wind establishes the album's presence in a way that can't soon be forgotten. Fun, head-slinging goodness lead each inspired riff, calling back to a glorious era of punk synonymous with names like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, and Need for Speed. It's bouncy, and features a spectacularly loose solo that rivals many of the jam sessions of the illustrious Earthless. In fact, it's precisely the sort of free-form singing instrumental melody that makes everyone desire the ability to play an instrument. There are few groups with this level of smooth, dexterous playing, and this reviewer for one is grateful to hear it shown off in the first four minutes.

Several tracks on the album feature noteworthy riffs on their own merits. The seamless, interconnected liquid goodness is nearly a trademark of the intricacy of much of the album, and it's not hard to catch oneself suddenly humming along to the rhythm in an effort to mimic the catchy, and enthralling movements that take you from beginning to end. Where many groups must continually alternate the spotlight in order to retain a pattern and maintain balance, SOLAR HAZE excels at doing the opposite; timbre is sustained through virtually every part in the group, even in the colorful, and varied drum sound that Ryan Falla is sporting. Refreshing, and reflective of the teamwork between him, and his brother and guitarist, Stephen Falla, they compliment the bass and lead guitars in an often syncopated manner that channels the finest Sabbath-worship, while still feeding off the energy of more modern predecessors, such as Electric Wizard, Witch, Sleep, and The Sword. The formula just works, and hearing it come to life in each splash-happy section is like reliving the greatness of the first listen of Master of Reality.

Here's where things really get crazy. Twenty-six minutes into this marvel, SOLAR HAZE unleashes a showstopping roller-coaster that, without being too crass, is really gonna fuck you up. In all this reviewer's many years, a great many master tracks have shown their face; several of these tracks elicited an emotional response, and a few of them even managed to make the heart pump harder. Then there are tracks like Nefarious Natures, an eight minute wonder that starts slow and chugs through measure to measure until it reaches its grand departure, at five minutes in, a towering centerpiece solo that shows what SOLAR HAZE was hiding behind the curtain all along; the depth, the improvisation, the sheer melodic mastery that comes bursting forth in the same unyielding fashion metalheads stumble upon tracks like Lord of This World. It's glorious. Beautiful. Damn near soul-wrenching. It's what we all come to appreciate from a genre as hilariously named, as "stoner metal." Upon ending its time on this plane of existence, the song trickles out, the bassline and drums still thrumming in the background. 

Solar Haze has given birth to a winner. The only disagreements worth offering are with the two vocal styles offered throughout the album. One on hand, remotely harmonious punk-infused barking can be heard spitting languidly through most of the tracks, and it is to an enjoyable effect; on the other hand, a secondary vocal is used in the form of distressed, strained, out-of-tune yelling, and it adds little to the overall composition they've pieced together here. While fans of early, low-budget punk will appreciate the disharmony of it all, it can make certain sections inaccessible, and throw off the balance of the movement. While this is a small gripe, it is one nonetheless, and seems only fair to call attention to for future releases. All in all, it doesn't hinder the ship from moving. A tidal wave of fantastic work lies within, and it would be a treasure in any music library. This reviewer looks forward to the future endeavors of SOLAR HAZE, and wholly expect greatness to follow from this cornerstone in their foundation.

FFO: Earthless, Black Sabbath, Electric Wizard, Sleep, Witch, Mad God

Solar Haze's self-titled album is out now on Metal Assault Records. Get your copy HERE and catch them on their west coast tour now (tour dates below).

Cover art by Ryan Bartlett

SOLAR HAZE Spring 2019 US Tour Dates:  5.10 Tarzana, CA @ Petie's Place 5.11 Reno, NV @ Shea's Tavern 5.13 Portland, OR @ Twilight 5.14 Seattle, WA @ Funhouse 5.15 Medford, OR @ Johnny B's 5.16 Boise, ID @ The Shredder 5.17 Nevada City, CA @ Cooper's 5.18 Oakland, CA @ Golden Bull 5.20 Los Angeles, CA @ Down N Out


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