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Year of the Cobra Revels in “Ash and Dust” (full album stream)


As we settle into the chilly heart of Autumn and the reality of the approaching Winter finally sets in, we begin to crave an appropriately sinister soundtrack for our seasonal rituals of debauchery. Satisfying this itch just in time for Halloween, Seattle-based stoner doom duo Year of the Cobra have delivered Ash and Dust, their tantalizingly catchy sophomore record that brims with upbeat yet sludgy anthems of weedian proportions.

Boasting a remarkable sonic heft and density despite their bare bones instrumental arrangement, the pair is composed of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung and drummer Johanes Barrysmith, who gained widespread acclaim for the cosmic, cyclical stoner doom of their 2016 debut album …in the Shadows Below. The group hinted at a slight shift in sound, however, with 2017’s five-song Burn Your Dead EP, which displayed a much greater affinity for catchiness and accessibility and was significantly more contained in length. Ash and Dust resumes immediately where Burn Your Dead left off while simultaneously delving into a more stylistically inclusive exploration of their sound, featuring a sleek and polished production style that shaves off much of the mysticism and auditory gristle of their debut. Catch an exclusive stream of the full album below, a day before its official release.

Structurally, Ash and Dust bears strong resemblance to …in the Shadows Below only on its first track The Battle of White Mountain. As Year of the Cobra slide into the gurgling, molten bass line of the song’s central riff, the group unfurl their familiarly hazy stoner wings as lilting, lyrical vocalizations from Tung introduce the track’s melodic hook. Although these sizzling low end grooves and confrontational percussion greet us with the uniquely crafted style we have come to expect from the band, several major developments in tone and texture are immediately apparent. Firstly, their spiraling lysergic layers of doomed psychedelia are dialed back significantly; where once the group elected to perform hasty explosions into the full intensity of their sprawling psychic aura, they now demonstrate a healthy measure of restraint with moments of simplicity allowing for a greater overall dynamic range. Though “The Battle of White Mountain” may be the album’s longest track, even its plodding introductory form bears more purpose and directionality than much of Year of the Cobra’s debut – never stagnating over its seven-minute length, its crushing walls of static distortion only close in upon the reprised central riff in the track’s final moments.

The meandering and mesmerizingly repetitive nature of …in the Shadows Below has been relegated to just one of many aesthetics present throughout the record largely due to the work of renowned audio engineer Jack Endino, whose collaborators include legendary Seattle acts Nirvana and Soundgarden, and whose contributions to the record shine through in its more straightforwardly organized grunge/punk compositions. The record’s second track “The Divine” adroitly bridges the gap between Year of the Cobra’s cosmic origins and their newfound irreverent punk-tinged approach with an uptempo rhythm and earworm vocal harmonies from Tung. Combining these pop elements with a wildly groovy liquid bass refrain, the group strike a much sludgier, rock n’ rolling side of the stoner doom paradigm as they decidedly eschew the daunting endless structures of their previous work for a thick and fuzzy yet concise tone decorated with crystalline vocals. Tracks like “The Divine” and the record’s lead single “Into the Fray” – another vocal-centric romp through this sludge-pop amalgam – display the album’s agile melding of hypnotically pummeling stoner grooves and succinct, digestible song structures.

Diving even further into this grunge-informed eclecticism, the record continues to subvert expectations with diverse sampling of genres seemingly oblique to the realm of stoner doom. While the record’s title track stands out as a violent and speedy thrash anthem, other songs such as “Demons” represent a more prophetic melding of punk and metal. One of the most undeniably doomy songs on the record, its plodding bass sizzle and the gnarly crunch of an electric organ gives it a tinge of gothic post-punk strangeness, resulting in a baffling stylistic mixture rarely achieved by stoner outfits. This experimentation continues on Ash and Dust’s final track “In Despair” an ominously lingering drone washed out by static layers that writhe and crackle around its minimalist passages. Never launching into a full breakdown or even a proper riff, the track leads us back into the void of silence with nothing but hovering ambiance to close the record. Suffice it to say, then, that Ash and Dust becomes increasingly fascinating as it continues, its second half back loaded with its most interesting compositions.

Despite all this sonic exploration, Year of the Cobra have not yet abandoned the esoteric heaviness of their roots. The record’s seventh track “Dark Swan,” by far its heaviest and most doom-centric, dives headfirst into psychedelic trance-like patterns, with Tung returning to the sultry, unhinged wail of …in the Shadows Below. The standout track of the record, “Dark Swan” infuses Year of the Cobra’s newfound elements into their apocalyptic stoner doom sound with furious aplomb, and prove that the outfit had forgotten nothing of their outstanding debut.

Collectively, Ash and Dust sees Year of the Cobra finding a mature balance between the lazy, laid back grooves of mellow yet fully doomed heavy psych and the foot-stomping appeal of its punked-out light thrash anthems. The heaviness of the record comes from its compelling gravelly bass tone and slamming percussiveness, never from direct brutality or even outright aggressiveness, a welcome change of pace in a landscape pushing towards higher and higher extremes. Though their sound has doubtlessly strayed away from the monolithically focused material of their first album, the forward evolution Year of the Cobra have achieved with only two full-length records is doubtlessly impressive, and suggest exciting prospects for the untapped potential still dormant within the intrepid duo.

Ash and Dust releases November 1 via Prophecy Records.

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