The Stark Arctic
posted on 2/2009 By:
After doing a little Googling, I discovered that Maegashira is a Japanese word that refers to the fifth rank of sumo wrestlers in Makuuchi, the top division of professional sumo wrestling. This makes Maegashira a particularly apt name for this New Jersey doom outfit, as their debut disc The Stark Arctic, much like a sumo wrestler, is heavy, powerful and slow moving. Google has failed to turn up the Japanese word for angry sumo wrestler on a bad acid trip, but that would be an even better name for the band.
The Maegashira boys are in no hurry to put the hammer down: The opening track “Ongoing Corneal Erosion” consists primarily of a sparse, mellow bass line that lumbers along for the better part of four minutes. The first proper track, “Caribou Crossing,” finds the band still in no rush, as it begins with some bluesy wah-wah noodling. When the band finally kicks into their first fuzzy groove, they sound remarkably like stoner rock legends Fu Manchu, until vocalist JJ Koczan opens his mouth. I’m not sure what it is that Koczan is bellowing about, but he sounds a bit too upset for it to be about skateboarding or muscle cars. Koczan is a real vocal chameleon, or perhaps schizophrenic would be a better term, changing styles from a deep guttural death growl to a black metal shriek, to a Henry Rollins-esque shout at the drop of a hat.
Track three, “Ammonia for Sweat” dismisses the stoner rock grooves in favor of a more forbiddingly metallic sound. The band grinds away for nine merciless minutes alternating between a slow heavy groove and a slower heavier groove, while Koczan whispers, shrieks and howls. The band finally picks the pace up to a High on Fire gallop on “Baggage Claim/Skin Slip" for five minutes or so, but the second half of this ten minute track finds the band gradually working a simple, clean blues lick into a thunderous stomping groove as Koczan’s vocal ravings grow progressively more psychotic.
After the pummeling and comparatively up-tempo “High from Jersey,” we come to the album’s epic among epics, the twenty two minute closer “Back to Muro.” “Back to Muro” combines all the elements of the band's sound and strings them out into a trudging tour de force of doom. This track is not so long, nor one dimensional as Sleep’s Dopesmoker, but we are still only dealing with varying degrees of slow and heavy. I cannot lie: After the thirty seven minutes of rather intense doom that comprised the first five tracks, piling on another twenty two is a challenge to my attention span.
Maegashira’s fuzzy stoner riffs and occasional blues licks give The Stark Arctic a superficial sense of warmth and familiarity but the band’s punishing delivery and Koczan’s deranged vocals lend the album an aura of grim cruelty that befits its title. The album is not an easy listen, but if you can give it the time and attention it deserves, it can be a rewarding one. If you like your doom extra slow, extra heavy and extra long, The Stark Arctic is worth checking out.
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