New Music – Rosetta West ‘Labyrinth’ Album Review

A shamanistic journey into far-out realms, this is a psychedelic trip powered by growling guitars and roaring riffs. Something akin to The Doors mixed with Brant Bjork, every track packs a piston powered punch as it rockets in from the desert and straight into your third eye.

This is independent music made for all the right reasons, the production credits list just three people; the musician, the engineer, and a poet. The quality of the sound and attention to detail tickles the ear of even the most fanatic audiophile and the passion poured into the project oozes through every strummed resonant chord.

It kicks off with ‘Red Rose Mary Bones‘ that opens with this doomy dirge that sounds like the strings have been loosened to one step before they fall off the fret board. They vibrate with a bestial intensity creating a spine jangling backbone that the rest of the track fills in with fleshy sinew and splayed tendons. On top of that bubbling bass base the cleaner sound of the lead guitar picks out a skittering skip and stagger that weaves wondrously. It sets up the sound and mood of the album perfectly with the hoot, holler, and howl of the vocals.

The Temple‘ takes us into the dreamscape vision of the more spiritual side to the sound. Lyrically it dazzles with a cosmic scope and some particularly potent poetic lines. There is a delicious and delightful depth to the layering of the sound that doesn’t take to the same explosive energy featured on the rest of the album, but instead builds this meditative music that has an authentically shamanistic chant at its core. The vocals on this track ascend to their loftiest heights and you can feel the truth of every line.

We continue on in this esoteric quest with ‘Deeper Than Magic‘ which leaves the scrub of the American desert to climb sand dunes at midnight in some far away land. Just three tracks in and we hear the varied and versatile skill and influences that have inspired the sound. The slide and pick that sits pretty at the center of this track has this crystal clear quality to it in its moments of perfect clarity, that then bend, wiggle, and vibrate with a ridiculous resonance when it returns to the shuddering juddering chords of its verse.

There is a vulnerability to ‘Roman Mountains‘ that is ageless and epic. It tells its story with bardic glee and glory. Lyrically it has a more cohesive and self-contained tale, that matches and mirrors the more emotive and evocative lyricism that has come before. Musically the central refrain stays a little more subtle and subdued in comparison to the rest of the album, which allows the storytelling that acts as the heartbeat of this piece to thump out thunderously.

Blue Fog‘ sounds a little like a war cry or a battle song. There is a devilish dirge to the way the strings are struck and a feral ferocity to the cry of the vocal melodies. There are moments when there are no lyrics, and the vocals tune in to this middle-eastern sounding chant, this enchanting sound hits harder than the sharpest poet’s pen. The track again casts this spell that elevates itself beyond mere music, and into the realm of a soothing spiritual balm, or meditative act.

The guttural growl of the roaring riff of ‘Ginny’s Gone‘ hits like a slap to the face. Arguably one of the most classically rock’n’roll moments on the album, the track goes hard and every element is an example of the Rosetta West sound dialed up to 11. The vocals are pushed out with fiendish ferocity, the riffs slap with monumental force, the percussive elements get the blood pumping, and the musical interludes deploy some sparkling solos. If you want an old school feel-good anthem, or a devilishly well written dance, this track is a standout.

The previous track pairs perfectly with ‘Shine‘ which has an anthemic quality to it that wouldn’t be out of place on a Black Keys album. Simultaneously both delightfully dirty and brilliantly clean, the tone of the strings on this one take on a slightly different feel altogether. The slide effortlessly swinging up and down the fret to bump out some old soul blues with a fresh and fiery new world flavor. The vocals slip effortlessly into the mix and sometimes run the risk of being more vibe than vibrant, which can trick the listener into tuning out of the lyrics behind them. This would be a mistake as every track has near bottomless intrigue and interest in its depths.

The salacious and sexy slide that leads in to ‘Elmore’s Blues‘ introduces the heartbreaking howl and throat burn of this straight up whiskey swigging breakup blues classic. It would be impossible not to nod your head and tap your foot along to this tried and tested formula, but it manages to flex and fiddle with the formula enough to make it feel fresh and full. Thick with the southern comfort of its heartfelt home and muddling that with the meaning and merit of its musical motif to create something unique and utterly enthralling.

Elmore’s Blues‘ pairs perfectly with ‘Fly Away‘ to then be chased up by the nightcap intensity of ‘Nightmare Blues‘. These three tracks sit pretty in the middle of the album and speak volumes of the genre bending folky fusion that vibrates at the core of the Rosetta West soundscape. This excursion into straight shooting, shot slamming, drinking blues highlights the experimental and inventive creativity that makes up the rest of the album, while simultaneously showcasing the skill and reverence for the genre that thrums and thumps at its heart.

The harmonica on ‘Fly Away‘ and the tambourine tickle of ‘Nightmare Blues‘ add elements to the sound that enrich and fill in the virtuosic guitar taking center stage for most of the album. Vocally both show off not only how rich and rugged the singing is, but also just how electric and emotive this act would be to catch in a live setting. Translating that energy onto a record is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle, but those who can do it ensure that when you see they are gigging in your area, you are getting a ticket. Rosetta West are an act we would love to soak in the superior stage presence of in the flesh.

With a shake, rattle, and roll, ‘Venous Blue‘ closes out the bruised and bluesy portion of the album. It has a slick and sleazy quality to the sound and vocals that oozes into every crevice of the track. The percussion provides a snake like hiss that winds itself around the totemic sway of the rhythmic and hypnotic guitar work. Taking a step back toward the rock’n’roll we heard before it has an effusive and enthused energy that whips the listener up into a frenzy.

The guitar comes in clean and crisp again with ‘Sanctuary‘ as we tip ourselves into the climax and finale of the album. There is this ridiculous and rambunctious almost skat jazz refrain in the middle of the track where we are treated to some nonsensically groovy lyrical vamping over the top of the riff that is honestly an album highlight for us. The softer side of the song serves up a humble and honest heart, while the more jagged juddering moments touch in to another realm of psychedelic abandon and awe inspiring primal force entirely.

Unsurprisingly the title track ‘Labyrinth‘ is an album standout that plays into a freak folk motif that is terrifying, timeless, and truly epic. The production takes a bit of a swerve in terms of tone. It feels like those Queens Of The Stone Age tracks where they bring in Mark Lanegan on guest vocals to dive into another realm of sound. Lyrically it’s luscious and lovely, with licks of lines that lap on the shores of consciousness and linger there long after the track is done.

The explosive climatic finale comes in the form of ‘Superior‘, and as the title implies, it is a dynamite track that bursts out of the speakers with staggering force. This track has Hendrix-esque raucous riffery, combined with viciously sharp vocal hooks that pierce your ear to drag you right into the frenzied fray. It is the perfect way to finish. Reminding you of what a riotously righteous psychedelic groove vision quest you have been on, while also serving up one of the most memorable moments.

The pacing and placement of each track on the album is masterful. Each track leads expertly from the one before and into those that follow, this is album crafting at a level that is woefully lacking in the modern music landscape. Nothing is out of step, and there is no filler. The album is exactly as it should be, and every track is exactly where it should be. It works as a cohesive whole, and while you could pick out individual songs to tempt someone in, they are elevated to a higher plane within this beautifully built body of art.

Rosetta West are the kind of band that reward their fans with consistency and a powerful passion for what they do. They have a back catalogue of wonderful work that continues to build on itself, improve, and impress. They capture what is no doubt an electrifying energy from their live show, and pour it professionally into their recordings. We will continue fanatically devouring their every release, until the day we are lucky enough to see them in the flesh.

This review was made possible by SubmitHub.

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