Release Date: 18 July 2013
Label: Strange Magic Records
Buy From Bandcamp for $5: Here
Several weeks ago I put up a post asking if people would like to write album reviews of local metal bands on DCHM (read the post here). Please welcome Grimy Grant as the first of those submitters to get a post up on the site. You can follow him on Twitter at @jgrantd. I’m still taking submissions and for those who have inquired but haven’t heard back yet, I may still contact you. Borracho’s official release show for the album is this Friday night, the 19th of July, at the Rock & Roll Hotel and you can get all the details on that here. Now on to Grimy Grant’s review…
Slow, deep bass notes sound out in a bare, cavernous space. They are then joined by the equally slow but perfectly spacy guitar riffs. Atmospheric choir voices join in the mix and more layers are brought in – until the drums start to bring it down in a crushing blend of Southern Rock and advaitic chants. This is how the opening song “Empty” starts off Borracho’s second full-length album of their career, the ominously named Oculus. The rest of “Empty” goes on to develop a kind of overture to the story: A man is spurned by a friend/relative who “gets the girl and the glory”, loses the girl to the hero who, “Will come out better than you”. The album goes on through its brief but rocking set of five songs to describe the hero’s journey. I was impressed from the start by this kind of conceptualization – not something that I expected from a band named after the Spanish word for “Hammered” or “Lush”. Even the word oculus has layers: a reference to large openings in the domes of Pantheons where rain and sunlight could both cool, light, and heat inner places. They also represent openings into the otherworldly: the godly realm that looks down on us, and we up at “them”.
Oculus talks a lot about deep issues, starting with comparing the glory of one man with the depression of another as being similar to the distance between gods and humanity. At least that is what is conveyed through the epic sounds coming from Steve Fisher’s guitar and Tim Martin’s bass. Yet while that comes out musically the message doesn’t always sell very well for me through the album’s lyrics and vocals. Some of this may be due to the departure of their original singer and guitarist, Noah Greenberg. The vocals in “Empty” for example, felt a little too twangy for the psychedelic, sonically expanding opening of the song. There is so much musically being carried through in the opening – a kind of widening of the imagined space – a space that perhaps an actual oculus is punching a hole through. Wailing guitars bring up the rear in the grand chorus of slow, stoner noise. Then we’re greeted with a steady, regular stoner rock beat coupled with Fisher’s voice singing “This depression/Is killing me”. The words and emotions conveyed seem too cliche in comparison to the complex structures of the song.
Not to say there aren’t gems in the lyrics. Fisher sings a lot about “Family tree” and having to “cut [it] down to be free” in “Stockpile”. He goes on to talk about “Searching for lead” in order to exact his revenge on the story’s villain. We’re put in the shoes of someone who wants blood. This is where Fisher, the guitarist and vocalist for Borracho, shines for me, when he puts in the voice of a tough-as-brass, true hometown friend helping out in “Stockpile”. He sings about being “consigned to form a team” and:
“Make a stand, You know I’d like to help if you I can
Give it time, give yourself a chance, You know, Just because of circumstance,
You know I swallowed it all”
Fisher is also screaming against the person that tormented him through the album and who is now going to get the comeuppance they richly deserve. This blends perfectly with the heavy, pulsating riffs in the background that helped create a vision of the oncoming battle. We’re marching toward victory.
The last track, “I’ve Come for it All” follows a trippy riffage from the song “Eye”, a reference to the oculus looking in on us. Airy guitar noise coupled with the screams of Fisher going through what must be some kind of fight with his inner demons, or perhaps with the gods themselves. In the end, we’re presented with the conclusion in “I’ve Come for it All”, with Fisher calling out his opponent:
“Chosen path/Slippery slope … You wanted it all/Now it’s time to die”
Without shame I will say those words give me goosebumps, even though they may be a bit over-the-top. Fisher’s guitar licks carry a lot of power throughout the song as well, helping back up his intention to wreak havoc. I was really banging my head towards the middle point of the song’s breakdown.
Musically, Oculus knocks it out of the park. Far after listening to this album I found myself humming the tunes to myself. Borracho’s lineup is tight – it’s not easy to create so full a sound with a three-piece band. Still, it doesn’t really kick in until the last three songs of the album. The first two tracks feel out of place with the album as a whole. Metal Chris wrote previously about Black Sabbath’s 13 (here) and how the track listing can hurt an album and I feel that this may also be the case on Oculus. The first track, “Empty”, and the second track, “Know the Score”, do follow the overall head-banging structure of each of the other songs, but with such a small track list I wonder why they can’t flow together tightly like the other songs. “Empty” ends with a kind of hard stop. “Know the Score” starts strong with a steady beat but then quickly goes into focusing on the lyrics, which in that song are tad weak for my taste.
The third track, “Stockpile” is where things ramp up into a steady continuum and it is where Oculus seems to make a decision on the direction it is going. We’re lead through a sludgy, grim and down-tuned sonic realm into a fierce, upbeat fight in “I’ve Come for it All” – a fitting soundtrack for some serious ass-wompin’. “Stockpile” really expands musically with the album, bringing in maracas and tribal drums in the middle to add some spice to the song. I found this an interesting point in the song that made me pause and think a bit. Oculus has a lot of these interesting bits in the album – something that shows some maturity and exploration by Borracho.
There are many reasons that I love Oculus: the solid, straight-up rock that founded metal in the first place is alive and well here. However I feel that Borracho is relying a bit too much on that to carry the album. The lyrics feel like they’re slapped on to some of the songs – “Empty” in particular. This won’t stop me from playing it in the car on road trips, head-banging along I-95 – gawkers be damned. Oculus goes deep in many ways, particularly in trying to mature and change the sound of a band that’s been around for about 6 years. Experimentation is a great thing and hopefully it will bring forth a new era of drunken, crazy exploits from Borracho.