From the metal as hell I Hate comes the, uh, so not metal as hell second album from Salt Lake City’s Subrosa. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a distinctly arid, desert-doom quality to this album, but if I had to sum this up in a single phrase, it would be that Strega sounds like PJ Harvey and Sleater-Kinney spent a weekend holed up in a cabin high on Kyuss. Subrosa is one of those bands at risk of (undeservedly) falling between the cracks, as their sound is too indie based to be considered metal, but their label and some of their influences don’t make them a natural sell to the indie rock contingent (on their MySpace the band thanks I Hate “for taking a chance on a band that fits nowhere”). Honestly, it would be a shame if this band doesn’t get a look by listeners in both camps. If this review doesn’t convince you, then I Hate’s batting average certainly should carry weight that these ladies have something to offer.
Parts of Strega call to mind PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love, but rather than conjuring the same scenes of desolation set on open, western plains, this album feels set in the oppressive isolation of some mountain cabin. Much of this comparison comes from the vocals, which offer delicious variety ranging from a solemn monotone to a sweet, ethereal croon, to the occasional noxious howl. There’s also the fat, writhing bass and down-tuned guitar lines that mix the desert groove of Kyuss and PJ Harvey’s heavier material. Then there’s the frequent use of ambient undertones (from an electric violin, no less) that provide a real depth and intriguing texture to the band’s mood and melodies. Again, something somewhat reminiscent of some of PJ Harvey’s later works. But in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a devout PJ Harvey fan, so I’m likely to draw more comparisons than others might. To be fair, the two acts share a style partly based in the blues, which lends to the easy comparisons. I’m also aware that this description unfairly emphasizes the band’s derivative qualities. While Subrosa takes cues from some of the luminaries of female indie rock, they have a distinct and ample personality and their material comes across as all their own. You won’t hear another album this year that sounds like this one.
Strega serves up a nice range of material, from raucous to somber to spiritual. The direct snarl of “Black Joan,” and “Christine”, with its hip swinging bump and grind, heavy-handed drum work, more riff oriented guitar, and swirling, insistent ambience are a stark contrast from the introspective, sad lilt of the spiritual-like “Isaac” and “Go Down Moses”. The somber, doomish march of the verse of “Crucible” is offset by the winding brighter melody that zig-zags between the band’s trudging steps and the chorus’ sudden double time lurch. It’s a hodgepodge of sounds, styles and moods, and it sums up Subrosa quite aptly. It’s true that Strega doesn’t boast a great deal of what you come to Metal Review to find, but this is an album that has a lot to offer to doom/desert rock fans, and will be a worthwhile find for all listeners free from genre constraints.