Friday, September 14, 2012

Wo Fat Hammers Out The Black Code

Back in 2006, Wo Fat released the hazy, smoke-filled metal and blues-infused album the Gathering Dark. The album was a benchmark debut, one that Wo Fat described as a blueprint they could expand upon. They've done that for the past six years.

The Black Code is unquestionably their finest installation of this heavy, crushing rock that carries more improvisational freedom than most bands see in an entire career. The self-recorded five-track full length is a riff-filled 46 minutes of laid back, mind-numbing goodness without a beginning, middle, or end.

The Black Code from the underground. 

The band originally came together in Dallas three years before their first album. Kent Stump (vocals, guitar) had some musical ideas floating around in his head and asked Michael Walter (drums) and Tim Wilson (bass) to jam out together. Stump had already known Walter for 20 years and he and Wilson became friends at a recording studio were they both worked.

Surprisingly, the band was meant to be four piece, but their second guitarist (Matt Watkins) couldn't make the Missouri-Texas commute (although he did make four songs on the debut album). Stump still give Watkins props for influencing him, even though it is evident his own guitar skills have grown.

On The Black Code, Wo Fat opens with the shortest of its five stack. Lost Highway eases into itself as what people have come to expect. Easy riffs laced with cymbal crashes shift into a heavier, more distorted groove before Stump breaks out his gravelly storytelling vocals.

Lost Highway tells you exactly where Wo Fat intends to take you with The Black Code — a deeply hypnotic sci-fi related motif with cyber code, alien artifacts, and alternate dimensions. The arrival coincides with the song's descent into a thick-as-sludge instrumental conjured up from their collective unconscious.

After Lost Highway, everything else is more expansive, opening into bigger and better sound with more room for the band to bring about psychedelic doom. The title track, The Black Code, opens with an ominous arrangement stretched out for a full minute before the song begins to pulse and pick up the beat.

The next nine minutes of the 10-minute track sway back and forth through increasingly progressive sways and drones as Stump attempts to ward away the black code from taking his soul. Like their music that remains rooted in a warm, thunderous roll that harkens back to the Seventies but without any restraints, Wo Fat fights off being tempted by tech. They would rather jam for what ought to feel like infinity but never does.

At center, Hurt At Gone opens with a strong guitar before Stump slides it back to give more attention to Walter's percussion. Wilson fills out the more primitive and bluesy beat and back country lyrics. It feels more aggressive in both its message and meanderings, picking up some Southern folk blues and distorted funk but presenting it with the smoldering smoothness of metal. The solo work is as sharp as ever.

It makes wanting to embed a video from The Black Code even more urgent, but there are only a few decent live clips of Wo Fat floating around like this one from Las Vegas. Black Code is a bit like this, only better.

The last two songs on The Black Code have the balance of the album. The Shard Of Leng is the longer of the pair, an impressively long and hazy instrumental for the first six minutes or so before Stump finds his voice to sing about outer-worldly and spacey experiences. It almost plays as two songs strung together.

The other, The Sleep Of The Black Lotus, anchors the entire album. It's a brilliant piece of heavy rock with poetic imagery tucked between multiple crescendos. It's here that the band's chemistry is at its peak in its ability to bring a song to a climatic finish and then ride it out for another five minutes. Wow.

The Black Code By Wo Fat Hammers Out 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Black Code is a must have album in entirety. It also brings clarity to Wo Fat's rating system that breaks every album into five scoring points — riff density, riff caliber, post blues factor, groove factor, and dig it. While I don't know if Stump, Wilson, and Walter think of their mad science creation when they are in the studio, The Black Code hits high marks in every category.

The Black Code by Wo Fat can be found on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes. Only two tracks are available without purchasing the album so you might as well get it and dig it. You can also keep up with the band on Facebook, where they sometimes tease with big news for hours.
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