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Wo Fat: The Black Code

Reviewed By: Adrian Janes
Label: Small Stone
Format: CD

Wo Fat hail from Texas, and from opening track 'Lost Highway' this album starts as it means to go on, drenching the listener in a Rio Grande of fuzz guitar. But it soon becomes apparent that, highly competent as they are in reproducing the sound of early 70s heavy rock, they don’t appear to have much ambition beyond this. The gruff vocals of guitarist Kent Stump also do little to set the band apart.

The title track begins as slow as early 80s Swans, but we’re soon musically back in the previous decade as it picks up to attain mid-pace metal. Lyrically however there are nods to the current era, expressing defiance of “digital witchery” and “fractal thievery”.

'Hurt at Bone' has a more openly blues-based approach and is delivered with greater energy than most of the material. Its more complex, tom-tom heavy rhythm, some powerful electric slide, and guitarwork that evokes Hendrix and Page, combine to make this the album’s most satisfying song. The band’s tendency towards extensive jamming in the latter part of songs is for once reined in, and to good effect.

There is some attempt at a different musical texture in 'The Shard of Leng', where electric piano and resonating feedback create a moody atmosphere. But at 6 minutes in this is thrown away as the band shift into generic quasi-Sabbath rock once more for the remainder of the song.

Final cut 'The Sleep of the Black Lotus' is a further cry against the addictive hypnotism of the Internet age (“The thieves dance/While you’re in your touchscreen trance”), while the band once more give full expression to their musical nostalgia - perhaps that in itself is to be taken as a form of protest. Yet while Kent Stump’s playing will rarely be mentioned in the same sentence as the word ‘economical’, there are times both here and at other points on this album where his self-indulgence is pushed to the point where he goes beyond the blues-rock template and hits something arresting.

Unfortunately the overall impression this album leaves is of a band who have mastered a 40 year-old style and are largely content to stick to what they know. Both fans of that style and of grunge will find things to enjoy here - I just feel that Wo Fat have the ability to make something more identifiably theirs if they so choose.

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