By Adrien Begrand
When you hear the words “instrumental metal” these days, chances are you’re reminded of two different styles: the drone-heavy post rock sounds of Red Sparowes and Pelican, or the more technically focused style of bands like Dysrhythmia or Scale the Summit. Like any form of metal, it’s all well and good if it’s done well and with plenty of passion, but more often than not instrumental metal tends to feel a lot more tedious than other metal styles. The lack of a vocalist to make that vital connection between band and audience is a big absence for a band to make up for, and the best way to do that is to write songs good enough not to require a vocal melody on top, which, of course, is much easier said than done. While there are some very good bands working today (yours truly cites Earthless and Gifts from Enola as personal favourites), it seems there are far too many instrumental bands that forget about honing their songwriting skill and slip into lazy, tedious moments of self-indulgence.
Having heard countless “instrumetal” albums, there are three things I always wish I’d hear from such bands more often. First, a band shouldn’t be afraid to be a little different than everyone else. Secondly, don’t record an album that’s 75 minutes long; a little goes a long way. Lastly, let a good hook carry the song, not your technical ability. This year I had yet to hear an instrumental metal album that got all three criteria right. That is, until I heard the debut album by Saskatoon band Shooting Guns.
The fact that the quintet is heavily derived from the swinging doom riffs of Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus and the swirling space rock of Hawkwind is hardly new, but for such a huge sounding band, Shooting Guns’ approach on Born to Deal in Magic: 1952-1976 is decidedly restrained, which works hugely to their advantage. The key element on this album is Krautrock, more specifically the style of Neu!’s landmark 1972 album. The German band’s signature song “Hallogallo” pioneered the “motorik” beat, a steady, unwavering tempo that conjures images of a highway lines zipping past as you drive. In turn, the music was just as repetitious, its steady hypnotic groove allowing for subtle improvisations to be layered on top. Shooting Guns utilizes that influence to great effect on their album, songs like “Harmonic Steppenwolf”, “Public Taser” and “Dopestrings” locking into some serious stoner/doom grooves that become more and more trance-like the longer they go on.
Incredibly, the band doesn’t bite off more than they can chew. With eight songs over 39 minutes, tracks range from three and a half minutes to six and a half minutes in length. Consequently, while those repetitious grooves are central to the band’s sound, not for a second do the songs ever feel tiresome. Which leads us to that crucial third factor: for songs that are so simple, they are very catchy. Fully aware that less is more, guitarists Chris Laramee and Keef create straightforward riffs and let them do the work, adding slight dynamic touches here and there, keyboardist Steven Reed often playing the Dik Mik role, accentuating parts with his Hawkwind-inspired synthesizers. Everything comes together best on the final two tracks, the atonal riffs on the ferocious “Stay Awake Forever” reminiscent of Sonic Youth, while the rampaging “Cheater’s Justice” feels like Shooting Guns’ own version of “Silver Machine”, sure to be a live staple for years to come.
In a live setting Shooting Guns are an absolute force, heavy, pulsating, very loud (those synths are gloriously dizzying), and Born to Deal in Magic: 1952-1976 does a good job capturing that energy. In the hands of a producer who specializes in this style of music (this band was born to work with Sanford Parker), these guys could be capable of a record that sounds even more massive. For now, though, we’re perfectly content listening to one hell of a fun debut, one of the very best Canadian metal/rock albums of 2011, singer or no singer. Besides, with grooves this contagious, who needs a singer, anyway?
Stream the album and purchase it here: http://shootingguns.bandcamp.com/
(Teargas Recording Tree)