Dead Meadow has never really been into radically changing their sound -- they've lost some of their rough edges, and some of their thick fuzz, but nothing too drastic.
And in "Old Growth," they keep doing what they do best -- vintage hard rock, tinged with some bluesy psychedelica, metal and stoner riffs, with the occasional ballad, and striking lyrics with a sense of fantasy. The newly relocated band lays out a powerful, dark musical experience that sticks to their signature sound, but is able to twist in a few new sounds.
It opens with some odd echoing sounds... and blossoms into a powerful, muscular riff that languidly twines itself through the whole song. Over the ringing bassline, Jason Simon drawls out a string of languidly dissatisfied lyrics: "Their silence is golden/they watch their man... the sun shines away/there's nothing to say/people will talk anyway...."
They try out a tighter sound in the follow-up, the stripped-down Southern-rocker "Between Me and the Ground," before winding into the fuzzy, darkly angular "What Needs Must Be." Those two sets a certain sound that they continue throughout the album -- ominous dark hard-rock, languid bass-twisters, eerie fantastical folk-rock, some low-burning rockers.
They even mix in a couple of uneasy, relatively gentle little ballads, tinged with some electric guitar but mostly acoustic. And one of their most striking songs is "Seven Seers," a sinuous little folk melody played with some flickers of grimy keyboard. Think medieval hard rock with a bit of metal here and there. Sure, it resembles nothing else in the album, but it's pretty good.
It must be admitted that "Old Growth" doesn't really grow in any particular direction -- like Dead Meadows' last album "Feathers," they grind through dark, earthy stoner-rock, without the need to throw in catchiness or artificial highs. But they do it so well, so powerfully, that lack of change really doesn't affect them. It's just such good music, with very powerful musical skills and solidly written lyrics.
And that comes from the instrumentation -- a dark, simmering, sometimes blazing sea of guitars and bass. These guys don't try to show off, but they fill their music with powerful ringing riffs that twist into blazing melodies, paired with fuzzy muscular bass that runs just underneath it. It's a little like being swept off by a very small tidal wave.
And of course it's riddled with solid drums, and a touch of Doors-esque keyboard to add an otherworldly flavour. But Dead Meadow injects a couple other sounds -- they dabble in a mellow acoustic guitar from time to time, and even add a bit of sitar to their harder melodies, giving it a retro flavour.
I have to confess, I often can't understand what Simon is singing. His rough, lazy-sounding voice drawls through the music as if he's just been woken up, but you can hear glimpses of dark, languid lyrics with a fantastical edge: "No longer knowing night from day/I woke with the stars/I think you know your radiant form/pierces the dark..."
Dead Meadow doesn't go anywhere new in "Old Growth," but they continue the weird, wild, exquisitely hard style that they've done so well in the past. Definitely grows on you.