Sunday 6 November 2022


Apparently, it was Black Sabbath's Bill Ward who first publicly coined the term "downer rock" it was a term he came up with in response to being asked to describe the darker, gloomier and heavier music his and other bands were experimenting with in the late 60's and early 70's. Record labels, however, were not so keen on the term, due to "downer" being street slang for barbiturates and benzodiazepines (barbs and bennies), and so avoided its use as a marketing tool and were much happier to throw their quite considerable weight behind more consumer-friendly terms like "heavy rock", "hard rock" and "heavy metal". The use of "downer rock" as a musical description died a death and soon disappeared into the annuls of history rarely to be heard again, well not quite.
Like the proverbial bad penny, the term has turned up once again, this time gracing an album of music very much in fitting with the sounds it was first coined to describe yet originating in the present day. That album is "Mile High Downer Rock" and is brought to us by a trio of musicians, hailing from Denver, Colorado, calling themselves Burning Sister.

Those of you who remember Burning Sister from their self-titled debut EP, "Burning Sister" will garner no advantage over those coming to this Denver trio anew as listening to the band's debut album "Mile High Downer Rock" is almost like listening to a different band entirely. The personnel remain the same, Steve Miller (bass/synth/vocals); Drake Brownfield (guitars) and Alison Salutz (drums), but the sounds they make together on this new release are gnarlier, grittier and just downright filthier than anything that graced their first EP. Some of the credit for this newfound gnarliness should probably go to the legendary Tad Doyle (TAD/ Brothers of the Sonic Cloth/H.Molly) who, in the mastering process, has stripped some of the polish off of the band's original sound and replaced it with a rougher edgeiness but Desert Psychlist is guessing that Doyle was only doing what the band required of him and that any dumbing down of sheen and gloss was wholly the bands idea. Whoever decides to take the credit there is no getting away from the fact that this grainier, seedier sound is something that fits the band like a glove and gives them a whole new palette of colours and textures to play with.  
First song "Leather Mistress" begins with a somewhat cliched soundbite sampled from some obscure horror flick but this is soon forgiven when the songs Electric Wizard flavoured refrain kicks in with a maelstrom of grainy guitar fuzz and low-end distortion underscored by thundering drums, barely audible vocals and some interesting synthesiser effects. Next up is "Acid Night Vision" another full-on onslaught of fuzzed out riffage and solid tight rhythms only this time with the vocals pushed a little more to the fore and some nice squealy lead work making its presence felt. By now you are probably scrolling back to make sure that you have not misread the opening piece of this review and that this trio DO actually hail from the USA and are not one of those Italian acid-doom/scuzz rock outfits that seem to be cropping up every other day. This would be perfectly understandable as Burning Sister share many of the same musical elements that Italian bands like Witchsnake, Demonio and Wizard Master bring to bear in their compositions, such as lashings of fuzz, overloaded distortion, dialled back in the mix vocals and punishing rhythms. Where Burning Sister differ from their Italian brethren however is in their dynamics. Burning Sister are not a band who are constantly in devastation mode throughout a song, they know how to pace themselves and allow spaces in songs, like "Dead Sun Blues", "S.I.B." and "Stars Align", where the listener can catch a breath before being slammed down again and where the guitar can soar for a second or two before getting dragged down again by the bass and drums into a mire of filthy groove, rare but precious moments that show that even something dubbed "downer rock" can still have the ability to lift you up.

Fuzz is the commodity we lovers of sludge, doom and stoner rock tend to gravitate towards the most in this scene we call the "underground", with the general thinking being that if it fuzzes it probably rocks. This is not always the way things work out though, as many of us have probably found to our cost after buying an album on the strength of just hearing a few bars of fuzzy riffage only then to find we've bought a complete turkey. Thankfully this is not a problem you will encounter with Burning Sister's "Mile High Downer Rock", because what fuzzes here most definitely does rock!
Check it out .... 

© 2022 Frazer Jones

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