(Neurot Recordings, 2009)
by Noel Oxford
It’s a good time to be an accomplished and successful professional musician with a wide range of influential industry contacts and numerous critically-lauded, commercially-released recordings to one’s name. Not because of the enormous sense of personal, financial and professional satisfaction that comes with such territory, but simply because the supergroup is apparently back in vogue, and if there’s one thing professional musicians love, it’s the chance to get together in a circle, palm the tumescent, bubbling genitals of the guy (or gal) to their left, and facilitate the leveraging of another revenue stream.
Yet, when it comes to supergroups, we idiots never fucking learn, do we? Don’t they always sound brilliant on paper? The power metal lead guitar maelstrom of Children of Bodom married to the scrumpy and western rhythm section of The Wurzels? Anticipation of a feverish, almost masturbatory species is the inevitable result. But the evidence of our folly is all around us, friends. For every Cream or Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Heaven and Hell, there’s at least three tortuously horrible Audioslaves, Zwans or Velvet sodding Revolvers shitting up the record shop.
Cards on the table, then, from the off. Shrinebuilder are no Velvet Revolver. They’re not even an Audioslave. All Shrinebuilder have in common with the likes of them is a cracking line-up not even approaching the potential sum of their parts, never mind exceeding it. Though better by a mile than either of those misbegotten bands they may be, history, I am sad to report, is still repeating itself.
Most of the pre-release excitement for Shrinebuilder’s Shrinebuilder seems based on a preview version of ‘Pyramid of the Moon’, which appeared on Myspace some months back. And you can see exactly why it prompted such froth, since it’s the album’s clear stand-out. From out of a crunching inundation of a riff, thick and sludged with peril, the tune tiptoes gently along a boulder-slide of guitars, only to wind up running nonchalantly through a few practice Gregorian chants as it hits the mid-eight, like some sort of avalanche-surfing extreme sports prick gone pious. It’s monstrous and unsettling in all the right ways, and nothing else here comes close to matching it.
Opener ‘Solar Benediction’ does give it a jolly good go, mind you, jump-starting the record with a drum lick that’s classic Melvins, which makes sense given that Dale Crover’s the fellow who supplied it. Scott Weinrich’s (Saint Vitus, The Obsessed) vocals trade places alternately with those of Scott Kelly (Neurosis), to not inconsiderable effect, although the uneven contrast of Kelly’s roaring, full-bodied bellow with Weinrich’s gently nasal, Gillen-esque croon sits oddly on the ear throughout the entire album. ‘Science of Anger’ pushes much the same dynamic in much the same way (with some additional vocals by Al Cisneros of Sleep), but both tunes ultimately break into semi-directionless sludgy meanderings for much of their nearly-ten-minutes-apiece length, sounding by turns like cut and paste pastiches of the several bands Shrinebuilder has arisen from. ‘The Architect’, on the other hand, has the advantage of restraint at a relatively svelte six minutes, and, apart from a growled chorus about entropy or something, it could almost be a heavier, fuzzed-out Deep Purple, and not just because of Weinrich’s Stars In Their Eyes turn. It’s not bad.
What, in the end, do Shrinebuilder have to teach us, dear friends? Is it a lesson about how true friendship always wins out in the end? No. Is it that you should always tell your mum where you’re going, with whom and when you will be back? No. It is not that. Is it that the bigger they come, the harder they fall? No. Well, yes, sort of.
Or is it that you can ask for too much of a good thing? Yes. That is totally the lesson. Supergroups have a proven track record of heartbreak, failure and cataclysmically average records. Perhaps we should take it as a testament to the sheer herculean heavy lifting of which the personnel of Shrinebuilder are capable that it’s only gone quite wrong, rather than utterly tits up.