We have an obsession with deserts in this scene we call the "underground" why this is we at Desert Psychlist have no idea, maybe its the vastness and heat of deserts that inspires a certain kind of sound in a musicians head or maybe its simply a hangover from those days when Kyuss and their like played impromptu gigs among the palms and dunes of Southern California. The amusing thing about this scenes obsession with deserts is the fact that many of the bands who jam a "desert sound" hail from countries that contain no such thing as a desert, something that brings us nicely around to the subject of this review.
Fire Down Below hail from Ghent, Belgium so probably the nearest these guys have ever got to a desert is a sandpit in their local children's playground but that has not stopped them capturing that authentic driving desert rock sound we all love and cherish as their latest release "Low Desert Surf Club" (Ripple Records) will testify to.
"Low Desert Surf Club" kicks off its account with "Cocaine Hippo" the songs title referring to the herd of African Hippo's introduced into Colombia by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, this despite the fact that the songs lyrics make no mention of either the hippos or Escobar. What you do get though is an upbeat romp driven by manic drumming, layered in oodles of fuzzy guitar tones and decorated in enthusiastic clean vocals referencing surf, sand and highways. "California" follows and is a lyrical ode to the state taken from a typical outsiders viewpoint, a backdrop of deliciously driven old school flavoured stoner/desert rock framing a vocal that tells of wanting to "see the sun set in the valley" and getting stoned "beyond my mind". "Airwolf" boasts some very tasty lead and chugging rhythm work from the respective guitars of Kevin Gernaey and Jeroen Van Troyen, bassist Bert Wynsberghe and drummer Sam Nuytens filling the spaces in-between with low growling bottom end and busy thunderous percussion while "Surf Queen" sees Fire Down Below flexing their beach muscles and waxing their boards before going full on stoner in the songs last quarter. We climb aboard some big wheels for next tune "Dune Buggy" a throbbing bass anchored, fuzz drenched tome that sees Van Troyen adopting a slightly different vocal approach. Things get a little lysergic and laid back for the next two songs "Here Comes The Flood" and "Hazy Snake" the former boasting touches of heavy psych and doom, the latter a lilting psychedelic instrumental. Its back to short sharp jabs of stoner fuzz and strident desert swagger for penultimate track "The Last Cowboy" but then things get epic for the final song "Mantra", a sprawling sixteen minute plus opus that touches base with all that has gone before yet still manages to find new ground to explore along the way, its first third a Colour Haze-ish jam, its second third a mixture of funky blues and desert rock featuring a strong vocal and its final section a mind-blowing blast of scorching lead and crunchy rhythm guitar backed by a drummer and bassist worth their weight in groove.
Let us finish this review by stating how damn good it is to spin an album that lifts you up from its very first note and does not put you down again until its last note fades into the ether. There is, despite a couple of moody diversions, a feelgood factor to "Low Desert Surf Club" that, in these times of strife and turmoil is nothing short of priceless.
Check it out ...
© 2023 Frazer Jones