Stoner metal has always lived in the underground, which is not a surprise, given that fame and acclaim don't mesh with the typical mindset the music carries. The drawn-out compositions, sludgy productions, and emphasis on everything other than making catchy music sentenced stoner metal to live in the shadows, a place not unfamiliar to the people making the music. But in recent years, as many stoner bands have softened their sound, and as the musical landscape has continued to fracture, stoner bands have entered a period in which they can achieve more than previously thought. Where there was once red tape stopping anything out of the ordinary from success, the rules have been through out, and anyone can make a name for themselves.
Voodoo Brother is a stoner metal band from Cleveland, Ohio who try to make a statement with their self-titled debut EP. While there are traced of their self-professed stoner credentials during the five songs, the music never comes across as being sufficiently abstract enough to qualify as such. The production is not the hazy, rough-strewn guitars expected of this kind of music, instead they come through with full clarity. This doesn't discount the music, but the cognitive dissonance between expectations and reality do make it more difficult to grasp and embrace the songs.
The band does an admirable job of sounding cohesive on this, their debut recording. The playing is never sloppy, the songs are tight, and the vocals are superior to the vast majority of bands that apply the stoner tag to themselves. These are not meandering vocals that sound as if they were recorded at three in the morning by a singer who would rather be doing anything but play music. They are powerful and well executed, and elevate the music several steps above the usual competition.
Closer “Let Me Grow” is the most interesting song of the group, not the most readily accessible, but a twisting composition that shifts unexpectedly through parts with reckless abandon. A serpentine riff drops in and turns the song on its head, coming out of nowhere, completely changing the feeling and momentum that had been established. It winds up working, but comes across a bit slapdash, like it was spliced together on the cutting room floor. Other songs, like the opener “Tearable” are more coherent pieces of work, that song in particular boasting the best bit of melody on the EP.
What strikes me most about the music Voodoo Brother plays is that it's not what they say it is. The stoner vibe is all but absent, the best comparison I can come up with being the completely unrelated late-career Life Of Agony. It's that band's ability to blend dirty riffs with coldly clean guitars, all the while maintaining enough melody to avoid becoming noise, that mirrors what Voodoo Brother is doing here. Even the abrupt transitions from riff to riff feel linked to that band, not a bad comparison to be able to draw. But in the end, there's a problem with all of this talk.
If a band doesn't know what to make of their own music, which is the impression I get listening to “Voodoo Brother”, it makes me wonder how I'm supposed to understand what I'm hearing. If I take my own experience as evidence, “Voodoo Brother” is a fine EP of post-hardcore heavy metal that has enough of all the elements to intrigue me about future material. But if I take the band at their word about what this music is, I can't help but think I'm missing something, because I don't hear that at all.