As soon as the grinding, distorted bass kicked in on the opening track 'Jackyl', it became clear that to me True Widow had cracked it. They'd done something bands do once in a career, if they're lucky, and that's sound almost entirely different to everyone else. That's much harder to do than it used to be, as it happens. Without the weight of history, bands with enough talent could literally walk into their niches. But as rock music chugs through 50 years plus, those individual spaces where bands could place themselves have become smaller, and more defined by the work of others. With so many bands out there, we employ time-saving genre maps in our heads, use other bands as points of comparison to navigate through a sea of names without context.
True Widow are difficult to define in that sense. In fact, they seem to have coined their own terms to cover their sound. One was 'Sonic Noir', which while sounding staggeringly pretentious does conjure up an idea of dark alleys and shadows, swirling mists of noise. That's a part of their make up, definitely. But it doesn't quite hit the nail on the head quite as hard as their other term, 'Stonegaze'. We have the satisfying meat and potatoes bass-heavy crunch of stoner rock and the deep atmospheric textures of shoegaze. If we're playing the old 'they sound a bit like X mixed with Y', the names to place on the axis would be Kyuss and Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out-era Yo La Tengo. There are no sharp spikes to that curve, and any joins between genres are seamless.
But as an album, As High As The Highest Heavens And From The Center To The Circumference Of The Earth surpasses even the hopes drawn from those two seemingly disparate points. It is a superb collection, with clarity of purpose, excellent material, and a pleasingly mesmeric quality. Nicole Estill's sleepy vocals and crawled-slowly-from-the-gates-of-Hell bass, Dan Phillip's almost spoken vocal delivery and chiming, surprisingly understated guitars, and Slim's deadened, powerful drum hits... all of these things combine so well it's hard to say this isn't a perfect album. Especially when things get quiet, and then it all kicks back in hard. That's an easy trick to learn, but difficult to master and use as well as they do on the closer 'Doomseer'. My nerves literally jangled. In fact, there are a few moments on this album where they get it so right musically, you'll probably find yourself air-punching in simple appreciation. There's no shame in that. From concept to final execution, True Widow have laid down an album so strong that I can't see anything usurping it as album of the year for me (or anyone else who gives it a few listens). And at the end of April, that's a mighty bold claim. But the glove is on the floor now, and everyone else will simply have to step up or cower away and hide. If I were them, I'd wait until next year.
10Tom Perry's Score