Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Chowder – Passion Rift (2012) / 82%

Baltimore & Brenner trilogy part I – Clam Chowder

Formed in the early 1990s by Josh Hart (guitar, synths...) and Chad Rush (drums), Chowder's sole full length album was only released in 2012 and oh boy, it's good. Hart, known for his contributions to many important doom bands located in Maryland's metropolis such as Earthride, Unorthodox or Revelation. John Brenner, leader of Revelation would later join Chowder before their split, did some recording, mixing and produced this album and also released their previous extended play on his label Bland Hand Records.

What we have here is weird and intricate instrumental progressive doom metal with an extensive use of sonic layers and a great sense of intertwined bass and guitar dynamics. The heavy guitar riffs are a force to reckon with and the loud, in your face, bass is a clear highlight (it would had been fun to hear an album with Brenner though). To be a successful instrumental band, I can see two major strategies. The first is to be as blistering and intense as possible even though your approach can be interpreted as simplistic (see the excellent Karma to Burn) and the second is to adopt a luxurious and plentiful approach. Chowder, like their peculiar name could indicate, is a rich and creamy soup of many good things.

Blending unusual and familiar doom riffs with a wide array of additional instruments (synthesizers, mellotron, theremin, acoustic guitars..), Chowder knows how to build interesting songs. They also mix longer songs like the titanic 18 minutes title track (the band itself called it their “Hemispheres” in relation to the classic Rush album) with shorter, incisive and catchy numbers. The musicianship is impressive (necessary for an instrumental band, obviously) and the songwriting is tight and airy. There's not a lot of solos but there's great technical leads and riffing (it's not Blotted Science or anything too saccharine and lifeless though) but it's fun to hear some traditional doom metal combined with space and psychedelic elements.
The band mentions the legendary Canadian proggers in the introduction of “Insidious”:

Alright. It’s Saturday night, I have no date, a two-liter bottle of Shasta, and my all-Rush mixtape. Let’s rock." -Fry in Futurama

There's some judicious use of samples throughout the release like the opening of album closer “Custody” with the vicious sound of a man being whipped, possibly from a movie such as The Passion of the Christ. These are always fun to give some personality and flavoring to the music since there's no vocals or lyrics and if it's used sporadically like it is here.

Chowder had some members who were also in hardcore bands and I guess there's a slight sludge influence here amongst the spacey progressive doom core. There's also a lot of stoner rock/metal but the melting pot still works well and sounds totally cohesive despite the numerous genres.

They're definitely not for newcomers to the genre, well the progressive doom genre isn't either but it's high value material composed with care and ingenuity. It's Rush mixed with quirky alternative rock like Primus and a huge dose of Maryland doom and it couldn't be more interesting to these ears. It's sad the band was laid to rest though since they were evolving in a rare but rewarding genre.

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