The North Carolina quartet seamlessly merge Riff Rock and Old Appalachia.
With so many incredible groups streaming forth in the age of riff rock and heavy metal, is there any question that many of those groups would elect to feature some of the regional elements that make up traditional American folk music? From the nautical themes of recent FALLS OF RAUROS, to IDLE HANDS, and even BARONESS, facets of cultural music creep into the score that paint a picture of a diverse and rich musical melting pot, further comprising the vast American landscape of modern Rock 'n' Roll.
As several people can attest to across Twitter, this reviewer scored BASK's Ramble On (2017) exceptionally high, and that level of quality speaks of the amount of consideration the group puts into every track. BASK is known for mingling fun and fitting musical proportions into each track. Drawn-out measures of soft acoustics that fit naturally with defined and well-timed bursts of raw power make for an exciting and oftentimes surprising composition that make every song an uneven ride of rhythmic hopscotch. At the push of a button, listeners can be transported from the dense Appalachian hills into a stadium filled with the sounds of reverberating, sludgy riffs that blast you just as often as the splash cymbals themselves. It's equal parts BLACK SABBATH, and JOHN DENVER, and any group that can be two sides of the same titanic coin deserves the attention of the masses. III, the latest offering from the boys is on the table today, let's dissect it.
Introduced with soft steps, the aptly named Three White Feet plays to much the same tune that their previous first track, Asleep in the Orchard did. Twinkling guitars chase a soft spiral of tones downward into the drawl-touched vocals of Zeb Camp, a testament to the Carolina-infused musicianship that they wear on their sleeves. With power and halting picks, quintuplets bridge the gap into a remotely familiar, post-grunge chorus that echoes the sounds of early 90's predecessors, dressing their songs and words with the gruff, yet gentle sounds of a Seattle soundscape. Listeners who have engaged the music scene from the far side of heavy metal will feel more than a little nostalgia for the careful touch of crooning over riffing that subsides as the second track takes away what audiences know, and replaces it with its turn of the century little brother: a clear and crisp drum snap that drains away from its haunting tri-tone fade and a furiously splash heavy successor.
Its name is New Dominion, and the intermittent, broken pattern of words and frets make this tune a simple to chant and remember kicker that is the bread and butter of what BASK is as their core. Four individual songs, their overlaps only apparent with the start of each measure. It's a formula that groups many years their senior never learn. When everyone is playing to create their own tune, there will always be something else to discover, even after dozens of playthroughs. The rough and rowdy chugs of Ray Worth make an appearance here, carving a path from start to finish in a ‘red light, green light’ pattern that, almost more than our percussion guide himself, set the beat and take it like a tour from its debut to its eventual fade-out into the same harmonic twinkle that listeners were led in by.
Stone Eyed is thrust upon the ears with a burst of crash energy, a breakaway taken only by a full and dual-tone vocal verse that sings of communal burden and a familial closeness. This track is rife with choral segments that stand out and the constant catchy hooks that make III such a stellar release in a pool of contenders all vying to be the heaviest of the genre. Jesse Van Note's time to shine comes around the minute and a half marker on this track, as a speedy and even drum roll slides from the snare to the pedals in a routine that even on its own illustrates this group's awareness of how each part is equally capable of taking the lead and creating a memorable experience. There is a constant theme of primal nature taking over and this song is no exception. The ideals of ages past, the imagery of an ancient colonial landscape being weathered by harsh winters, isolation, and only a reliance on the spirit and one's own body are a recurring part of this album.
Rid Of You features a soft melodic intro, that could quite honestly fit snugly into a corner of a GRAVEYARD album. The strum of a bass-line takes center stage in this one, as several measures of hoppy guitar licks play a colorful backdrop to a build that peaks at the three minute mark, delivering a talented, multi-octave solo that swings high and low with a sweet chorus to accompany it one last time into the release. As a quickened pace draws each beat of the drums closer to their conclusion from Scott Middleton, this song wraps with a lonely call of "I must be rid of you," a line that turns from singsong delivery to an urgent cry for solitude.
Tracks six and seven, a two part suite called Noble Daughters, features a couple of six minute songs that jump from uplifting and whimsical, to heavy and headbang worthy. Think somewhere between THE SWORD's High Country, and Green and Yellow by BARONESS, and listeners will probably be on the right track. More southern rock than doom, these tracks paint a picture of the technical skill that this group illustrated during Ramble On, stretched out into a dawn and dusk of high-tone guitar melody and splash-happy romp that makes this a chance for the band to show off individually one last time before the killer end.
The last, and final stop on this album is a neatly tucked away little gem known as Maiden Mother Crone. It is devoid entirely of riffs, frets, and anything close to what could be considered heavy metal. Truthfully, this song in particular calls back to tracks off of PANOPTICON'S discography, and does it in a spectacular way.
In much the same fashion that Kentucky takes the sound of a banjo and molds it into a force to be reckoned with, BASK manages to harness this power to create a compelling and true-to-form ballad that mingles the sound of traditional Americana at the tail end of a killer rock album, hinting at its coming majesty throughout the tracks building up to this grand departure. Simple and sublime, Maiden Mother Crone takes a look back at what makes the album so charming and unique from its competitors. There's an air of excellence to it that must be experienced on its own, and this reviewer believes that if you were privileged enough to receive the blessing of a tour stop close to your home, it would be a grand tragedy to miss such an outing. This is an album from a band that anyone can engage and enjoy, and with this level of absolute musical mastery of both the heavy and heartfelt alike, there are few reasons to pass up such an event.
III is not an album that reaches into the annals of the year and tears out a page. By their own admission, BASK is not trying to divide and conquer both folk music and heavy metal. They're putting out elements of where they're from with a healthy dose of what they enjoy. From the height of aged Americana to the depths of the most doom-infused stoner rock, BASK succeeds at packaging one of the most highly listenable albums of the year, and they do it in a thrash-defying thirty three minutes. Fans of ALL THEM WITCHES will be floored by how BASK crosses this folk rock divide into heavier territory, and if you're unfamiliar with this scene, now is the time to get on board. If there were any album that could please both the crowds of folk rock, and stoner or doom metal, it would be this one. There's enough thick and loud riffs to cut straight to what listeners yearn for, but there are enough progressive traits at play here that both challenge the genre norms and at the same time provide a new excitement that forces jaded metalheads to confront a part of themselves that they may or may not have known existed all along. That draw to the archaic, and the need to search for one's own past; BASK has turned this tale into a musical epoch that touches the divine and embodies the primal.
FFO: Elder, Panopticon, Falls of Rauros, If These Trees Could Talk, All Them Witches
III is available now via Season of Mist and you can pickup your copy HERE.