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The Warlocks - Skull Worship (Album Review)

Tuesday, 10 December 2013 Written by Graeme Marsh

With a rotating cast of musicians, the Warlocks have been trudging the psychedelic rock path for some 15 years now, with the mesmerising ‘Skull Worship’ their long-awaited return to action.

Built around singer/guitarist Bobby Hecksher – the only mainstay in the group’s history – their music is heavily influenced by the Jesus And Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 and, of course, the Velvet Underground, the godfathers of fuzzy drone rock tinged with psychedelia.

There are also nods to space rock and Krautrock, but for modern day comparisons look no further than the ‘family’ of psychedelic American bands that includes Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and their less heralded, but in many ways superior, cousins the Black Angels and Brian Jonestown Massacre.

The links between the bands are plentiful, with Hecksher having completed a stint as bassist for Brian Jonestown Massacre just as Anton Newcombe, that band’s leader, has drummed for the Warlocks.

Drone rock has recently seen a resurgence, notably in the shape of Wooden Shjips’ ‘Back To Land’, along with the Black Angels’ 2013 offering ‘Indigo Meadow’, and ‘Skull Worship’ is worthy of comparison to these essential slabs of psychedelia.

The repetition of the catchy opening riff that adorns Dead Generation sets a high standard for the rest of the album and the track weaves a spell of guitar and synth mastery to leave the listener eagerly anticipating the next step.

That arrives in the shape of Chameleon – a slower beast that rises and falls with a plodding guitar line backed by screeching effects and clashing percussion, creating a psych-heavy monotony that transfixes. The droning intro of Endless Drops recalls Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anemone for just a second before a captivating bassline kicks in, and when Hecksher’s vocals enter the fray the ingredients add up to a dark, funereal moment. This is music for the walking dead.

Silver And Plastic marks a detour, with lazy acoustic guitars and minimal percussion laying the foundations for a softly sung touch of beauty. Hecksher’s whining vocals fit the track perfectly before a Newcombe-like electric guitar line spins an intricate web over the top.

You’ve Changed continues the space-rock dalliances in subdued, morbid form. Here, thick guitar fuzz depicts doom, accompanying Hecksher’s vocal dismay, with wah-wah licks and more electric guitar meanderings completing the gloom.

You will not find any upbeat rays of sunshine here, certainly none to match the band’s liveliest number – Shake The Dope Out, from 2003’s ‘Phoenix’ – and the final two tracks of the album do little to change the mood. It’s A Hard Fall is another slow dance through psych and closer Eyes Jam is six minutes of strangely captivating, effects-laden noise.

Only twice do songs surpass the six minute mark, though, and the majority could have benefited from being even longer given their quality. ‘Skull Worship’ is a gem of a psychedelic rock record that needs to be heard – over and over on repeat.

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