Punctuated Equilibrium

Southern Lord

Though the squares only know him as a ghoulish shade giving voice to Dave Grohl’s Probot project, Scott “Wino” Weinrich is a revered figure in underground music circles. Whether plying his disembodied howl and tarpit guitar in legendary doom losers Saint Vitus or the only just a tad less influential The Obsessed, or leading his own latterday outfits Spirit Caravan and the Hidden Hand, Wino has shown himself to be a ready hand. He is a musician able to balance suicidal despair with humane, political consciousness all delivered with bluesy, red-eyed fire. If you’re in any way a worshipper at thee temple of thee infinite riff (and let’s face it, if you have even the slightest interest in Sabbath, Melvins, My Bloody Valentine, or Boris, you are), then the news that Wino has decided to strike out fully on his own is big news indeed. Listen, the man’s like all the best parts of Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi rolled into one. And some twenty years into an intensely personal musical journey, Wino still appears to be at the height of his powers, both in terms of chops and intellectual curiosity.

So with the hagiography out of the way, how does Punctuated Equilibrium stand up to his daunting back catalog? First, like any good jazzman, he’s assembled some crack collaborators. Jean Paul Gaster (Clutch) is on drums, Jon Blank (Rezin) on bass, and hardcore stalwart J Robbins produces. (Interesting coup, that). Building blocks in place, yep, it’s looking sharp, friend. And up front, Punctuated Equilibrium has some very strong moments; Wino’s voice is frail yet commanding, his soloing is mercury fluid as ever, and his lyrics are well-crafted, varying between personal insight, progressive (not prog) commentary, and pure space-case wandering. The album mines the rich vein of Seventies boogie sludge that Wino’s previous outfits have always hinted at. It shimmies and shakes and all of that — snakeskin boots, flick knives, tattoos — like when Mountain and Rainbow and Deep Purple first did it. At its best, Wino’s new work is like a hybrid of Neu hypnotism and biker rock. The problem is that, as songs stretch on and the album progresses, the music is in danger of becoming something akin to formless blues jams. The focus blurs, the rhythm section downshifts into a steady groove, and a song just continues into an indeterminate point in an orange-red horizon. Now, that might not be much of a problem to many savvy doom listeners, might even be preferable for a good blissed-out nod. But I can’t help think of the evergreen punkoid sludge of Saint Vitus and Hidden Hand’s paranoid urgency and I feel something is missing, some of the impatience and frustration.

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