Lonely Kamel "Shit City" (Napalm Records, 2014)
The year 2014 saw the return of heavy-stoner adventurers Lonely Kamel with a new, refreshing full length, aptly titled “Shit City”, published by Napalm Records.
Formed in 2005 in Oslo, Norway, and always dedicated to the most psychedelic, bluesy and trippy elements stoner rock has to offer, the quartet (Thomas Brenna on guitar and vocals, Lukas Paulsen on lead guitar, Espen Nesset on drums and Stian Helle on bass) have managed to keep things interesting throughout 7 years of recording career and 4 full-length albums to their name by adding to their sound (or taking away from it, depending on the case) elements and reminiscences of numerous musical influences, such as doom, grunge, groove metal and funk, which one could bet make up the band members’ steady diet of listening pleasures when they’re not busy tearing up a stage or recording a new album with their own, magnificent tunes. All this while retaining a convincing, immutable style of their own and a personality (onstage and on record) second to none of the “small”, underground bands in the scene.
The different stages on their path do seem to have a few linking elements holding it all together (weed, ladies, hallucinations and friendship being among the most recurring themes in their lyrical archive), and their style, always easily recognizable, sits them pretty damn comfortably among the greats of the stoner realm. But the shifts in form and delivery, especially on a guitar/vocal level, make each new album from these young, tireless Norsemen as refreshing and interesting a listen as any output from the most experimental post-metal act. In the simplicity and directness of their language, Lonely Kamel seem to have found a whole vocabulary which allows them to effortlessly deliver, riff after riff, and howl after howl, one great album after the other.
So, after 2008’s easy-going, psychedelic-infused, self-titled debut, which came out almost unnoticed but left enough an impression on those who did notice it to guarantee their return, 2 years later, with the transitional, audacious “Blues For The Dead” (which came out on Kozmik Artifactz, was never repressed and has now become a vinyl collector’s Holy Grail. For the record, the label also picked their debut for a well-deserved, proper vinyl issue.), the Kamel hit it “big” in 2011 when Napalm Records grew an interest in the band (also following their triumphant appearance at that year’s Roadburn Festival) and “Dust Devil” saw the light shortly after. This last album saw the band mix more doom, traditional heavy-and groove-metal than they’d ever done before, making it their most metallic album to date, and the fantastic production and flawless performances didn’t do any harm either. “Dust Devil” has been sitting on my turntable and in my iPod ever since and it’s always a pleasure to get back to it, every now and then, and listen to the frantic grooves of “Rotten Seed”, the aggressive grunge of “Evil Man” and impending doom of “Seventh Son”.
So the question arises: how does a band top their masterpiece? The answer for singer/guitarist Thomas Brenna seems to be pretty simple: leave it alone, hone the craft, sharpen the blade and get out once again with simply everything you’ve got. So, their return this year with their fourth full-length “Shit City” sees the band incorporating basically all their songwriting skills, influences, compositional ideas and unconditional love for heavy music into as diverse and multi-colored an album as anyone could expect from them.
The title-track opens up on a fast-rocking pace, tinged with raw grunge fury a-la early Soundgarden, and sets the tone for about 5 minutes of headbanging stoner delight. Even Brenna’s voice takes on a Chris Cornell-esque quality, which will make fans of both high-pitched screamers rejoice. From the start, I noticed a slightly rougher tone in the guitar sound, which is balanced by a slick production and by the crystalline, cohesive sound of the drums and bass, which lay down the foundations on which the double set of six-strings can freely do their thing. The second track, “White Lines”, slows up the pace and places a catchy melody to the forefront, mellowing things down a bit in preparation for “Is It Over?” , another ass-kicker, a devilish boogie in the vein of Blue Cheer’s finest moments. With a dark twist right at its core. “I Feel Sick” follows, and it feels like a wrecking ball hitting the listener right in the gut, much like “Rotten Seed” did in “Dust Devil”. Side 1 closes with “Seal The Perimeter”: a panzer-like riff interplayed with spaced-out, doomy verses and bluesy guitar solos, all carried through by the constant hammering of the drums and bass guitar.
Side 2 opens with what’s probably my favorite track of the album, “Freezing”. Brenna’s vocals shine once again on this one, this time shaping almost to an angrier version of Eddie Vedder. Even the guitar work, melodies and rhythm section take on a Pearl-Jam-on-steroids feel, down to the slick guitar solo, which could make one Mike McCready green with envy. The funky heavy blues “BFD” and the tortuous southern rock of “Falling Down” again display the band’s penchant for melody (the latter track’s beautiful mid-section), while always reminding the listener just about how crushingly hard Lonely Kamel can hit when they want to. As if you found out the beautiful lady neighbor of yours you’ve always wanted to take out on a date works the hammers at the steel factory. Sexy, to say the least.
“Shit City” ends with a cover song, “Nightjar”, originally recorded by obscure hardrockers Necromandus and included in their 1996 album “Orexis Of Death”. It’s a dirge played fast forward, half Black Sabbath and half Blue Oyster Cult, and the Norsemen here re-interpret its message in their style, with their signature touch of heavy that always hurts but in a good way. Another gem in a flawless album.
That wraps up “Shit City” and it’s 40+ minute trip. A trip I would recommend to anyone who likes their rock dirty, heavy and stoned. Not as pleasant as “Lonely Kamel”, not as daring as “Blues For The Dead” and not as crushing as “Dust Devil”, but surely enough a well balanced mix of all the elements that made those albums so good.
Be sure to catch these guys live next time they’re near you; I promise, you won’t be disappointed, because on stage they totally own.
“Shit City” is out now on Napalm Records, and available on LP and CD.
Review made by Tommy Morelli/2014
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