Riding the riff like it was a sandworm of Arrakis, Seattle-based trio Sandrider have been making some sizeable waves of late. Taking their name from Frank Herbert’s legendary sci-fi novel Dune, Sandrider was formed by guitarist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski and drummer Nat Damm of the inexcusably underrated Akimbo, and rounded out by bassist/vocalist Jesse Roberts of the Ruby Doe. The band’s 2011 self-titled debut, produced by Matt Bayles (The Sword and Planes Mistaken for Stars) and released on Good to Die Records, spat up plenty of dust with its sludge and noise rock collision rolling forward with unabashed momentum, recalling bands like KARP, Drive Like Jehu, and Torche in the process. Most importantly, it set Sandrider up for a helluva future of their own – if they can capitalize going forward that is.
Following an album that set out an impressive stall isn’t so easy – just ask Red Fang, a band Sandrider share a love of groove and melody with, who released a disappointing follow-up to their break-out album Murder the Mountains this year. Sandrider have managed to sidestep the dreaded second album slump by not only focusing on writing riffs that’ll rush their way through to your cerebellum but by making sure the dual vocals ride side-saddle, if not attempt to feverishly push ahead.
Strong, varied songwriting is the name of the game regardless of what genre you’re peddlin’, and Sandrider’s second album Godhead, again produced by Bayles, has this in spades. It’s not a massive leap from what the band wrote for their debut, nor was such vaulting progression needed. The formula was already in place and Godhead is a fine-tuning of its energy, might and melodicism, and the songwriting as an end result is all the better for it.
Setting down a rock-solid rhythmic foundation is Hamm and Roberts, and their complimentary interplay and percussive thump on songs like “Castle” really frees Jon Weisnewski to experiment during the verses and move in and out of the chucking grooves. By pulling the guitar back to just a tension-tightening accent, the impact when the riff explodes is devastatingly effective; not a new move but it’s a time tested manoeuvre that never fails to work. The same can be said of Sandrider’s other songwriting tricks, including dynamic shifts in tempo and the use of repetition; a lethal trait of noise rock. The band use blunt repetition as a weapon throughout, especially for the noise rock boogie of “Tides” as grooves churn under acidic vocals and even a tasteful, bluesy lead solo from Weisnewski.
Sandrider are at their most comfortable during the up-tempo tracks, as “Champions” and “Gorgon” attests; the latter’s melody and tumbling force even brings to mind Foo Fighters’ “White Limo” but with Sandrider favouring half-time pay dirt as the pace slows and the massive groove kicks in. The same technique is used on the instantaneously catchy “Overwatch”, but such catchiness does not sacrifice the heft; the riffs and coarsely shouted vocals remain on equal footing. There is a tendency, however, to use this move too often – as well as the fake finish (“Beast”) – and Sandrider must be careful not rely on this as a crutch in the future, even though it works to great effect on Godhead.
The best songs are found during the first half of the album, from cheeky homage to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” that begins the Middle Class Rut-meets-Unsane opener “Ruiner” to the centrepiece of Godhead, the six minute-plus title-track. “Godhead” is a fine example of how Sandrider have developed in terms of having a greater understanding of pacing. It moves from an undulating, bass-heavy opening section to a powerful sludge riff combined with Damms’ shifting beats, and by alternating between being musically heavy – think KEN Mode at their most expansive – and affecting vocally, Sandrider have written their greatest song so far.
The playing on Godhead is intuitive and totally indicative of musicians who have worked together for long periods of time. The songwriting, the impact of the sturdy riffs and rhythms, and the vocal pairing of Weisnewski and Roberts are much more accomplished than they were on Sandrider . And as this band makes the most sense in a jam-packed, sweat-soaked club roaring through their songs at high volume, plenty of time has been taken to make sure these ten songs will forcefully grab an audience by the scruff of the neck when played live.
Sandrider once sold a T-shirt embossed with the slogan “Louder Than Louder Than Love”, a tongue-in-cheek jab at Seattle’s grunge-gods Soundgarden. And while the statement, although technically true, wasn’t meant to be anything more than an amusing doff-of-the-hat to a band who have been a major influence on Sandrider, it also hinted at the ambition Sandrider have. It’ll be interesting to see if the band can write their own Louder Than Love, but for now Godhead is a huge step towards Sandrider becoming one of the bands synonymous with the sacred sounds of Seattle.
// Notes from the Road
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