2. Venus God
4. Ocean Hearts
6. I'll Be Long
Of the various Italian stoner rock bands I’ve come across who follow a more traditional approach to the genre -- acts like El-Thule, Black Rainbow and Void Generator -- Treviso’s OJM might be the most characteristically individual. By that I mean that within a genre of classic and desert rock influence, they still manage to come out sounding distinct in their musical personality. Volcano (Go Down Records) is OJM’s fourth studio full-length since forming in 1997, and as it unites the band with the accomplished production of Rancho de la Luna’s Dave Catching (Queens of the Stone Age, earthlings?, The Giraffes, etc.), it hones a refined and polished approach to the genre of stone that, rather than aping the likes of Kyuss or Fu Manchu, modernizes and refreshes the approach.
They called the album Volcano in honor of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull that wrought so much havoc on Northern Europe this past Spring, cancelling thousands of flights all around the world, including that which would have brought Catching to work with OJM in the flesh. Volcano was recorded at Red House Studio in Senigallia, and the four-piece wound up collaborating with Catching via Skype, presumably passing files back and forth via some fascinating and futuristic transfer protocol. A credit to both parties, then, that the album sounds as good as it does. Led by its founders, drummer Max Ear and vocalist David Martin, OJM’s brand of rock knocks heads with classic garage thickened and updated, offering catchy Monster Magnet-s t y l e hard rockness on “I’ll be Long” and “Cocksucker” with guitarist/backing vocalist Andrew Pozzy (who used to play bass) turning down the fuzz as compared to a song like “Rainbow” to bring out a different feel.
As Volcano is 35 minutes long, and “Oceans Hearts” accounts for about 20 percent of the album, it’s worth looking at the track specifically. It’s three solid minutes longer than “Cocksucker” at 7:13 and undoubtedly OJM’s most fleshed out track. Martin, who proves a versatile and capable singer throughout offers a passionate delivery tuned rightly to the music’s gradual build. Bassist Stefano Paschi, who started off Volcano on the Atomic Bitchwax-esque instrumental opening intro “Welcome” with gloriously thick fuzzality offers probably the best bassline of the record as he takes charge of the song’s final couple minutes, and where the rest of Volcano seems streamlined and pared down to its essential components (Paschi also contributing organ to “Wolf” and several of the other tracks), “Oceans Hearts” has more breathing room and a more laid back approach, making it an effective change of mood. All the more so because, contrary to what one might expect, it doesn’t close the album, or even the first half, instead placed right after an opening salvo of three tracks all under three minutes long.
The back half of the album, kicking off with the aforementioned “I’ll be Long” and “Cocksucker,” speeds up to punker pace with “Disorder” before the more psychedelic “Escord” takes hold. “Escord” probably wouldn’t have worked anywhere but in its spot nestled just before “2012” closes Volcano, but it’s well done nonetheless. Martin’s vocals step back into a cave of reverb and the tempo takes a step down to a grooving middle flow while Paschi again offers a killer bass line and Pozzy gives a freewheeling solo that fades the song out. It’s a (again) well-placed lead-in for “2012,” which takes the energy down even further, to a song that’s still brightly toned, but maybe a little moodier -- still orange, but a little deeper in the shade, if you want to put a color to it. With “Oceans Hearts” eating up so much of the focus early in Volcano, the closing duo offers appropriate decrescendo, once more displaying OJM’s maturity in songwriting and album construction.
Volcano is my first experience with the band after hearing and seeing their name for years since their debut Heavy LP in 2002, and I’m sorry to say it’s taken me this long to experience the band. Blame import prices. I don’t imagine OJM started out with this kind of persona or confidence, and it’s likely Catching was a factor in bringing that out -- even from a distance -- but I’m glad to have caught them with it now, as it has made Volcano among the better of the genuine riff rock albums I’ve heard this year. In this age of expanded-definition stoner when just about anything seems to qualify as long as it has a catchy riff, it’s reassuring to know that there are acts like OJM out there giving new life to the rooted conventions of the s t y l e. I’ve got my work (and my money) cut out for me in investigating their back catalog, but if Volcano is any indicator, it’ll be well worth the time.