The Parisian trio Wall of Death is well versed in the value of nostalgia. On its Facebook page, the band describes itself as “principal exponents of the new European post-psychedelic rock scene”. The existence of a “post”-psychedelic rock is a suspect notion; after all, Tame Impala exists, and scores of bands that know how to work a phaser pedal continue to describe themselves as “psychedelic” in some fashion. If one further looks into the music of Wall of Death, they will find that psychedelic is alive, well, and still reminiscent of the glory days. Loveland, Wall of Death’s second album, is a repository of several genre stylistics, with psychedelic, classic rock, and prog intermixing into one reverb-heavy affair. These guys love an echo, whether it manifests in their vocals, which are saturated in reverb, or in the lingering sound of their forebears’ influence.
Things kick off with a clear and energetic gesture in the form of the title track, complete with brushstrokes of mellotron and a “Knights of Cydonia”-aping bridge riff. Right away, Wall of Death vault over one of the common weaknesses of bands eager to pin the “psych” label on themselves: this is music that’s both spacey and full-bodied. The washes of layered instrumentation that coat “Loveland” do not negate the rhythm that kicks up in the bridge. “All Mighty” features a similarly cool bridge, with what sounds like a synthesized violin building up a gallop rhythm that’s followed by a smooth guitar solo. These rock-out moments, when paired with the echoey vocal production, evoke the interplay of harmony vocals and guitar riffs that Blue Öyster Cult did so well. Yet despite the name Wall of Death, there’s no inducing fear of the reaper here: on the title track and in many other places, the trio’s vibes are fairly positive.
About mid-way through Loveland, however, the somewhat disembodied reverb vocals become a gimmick. On the bluesy, Hammond organ-accented “Chainless Man”, the singing puts up an unimpressive fight against the swagger of the guitars. Undoubtedly, the vocal production is done this way in part to play into the “psychedelic” label. One spin of Loveland and it becomes abundantly clear that Wall of Death have listened to every Pink Floyd album front to back – with special emphasis, presumably, on the Syd Barrett years. (“Little Joe”, whose pulsed piano chords could reasonably be classed as Beatles homage, also stands out as a moment of obvious hero worship.) The woozy rock ‘n’ roll of Loveland is indeed psychedelic, but just as it does with its laundry list of influences, the album leans in too heavily into the psych genre’s stylistics. By the time the umpteenth set of reverb-laden harmony voices come out of the speakers, one would be forgiven for wondering just how many tricks Wall of Death have in the bag.
To Wall of Death’s credit, though, Loveland goes out with a bang. The ten-minute “Memory Pt. 1 & Pt. 2” is an opus in miniature, exhibiting an almost Swans-esque build as it paces methodically towards a solo that would give David Gilmour a grin. Along with Loveland as a whole, “Memory” is a clear composite of its influences. But it’s on this lengthy track that Wall of Death get to that tricky art of synthesis, of taking one’s musical background and wringing something new out of it. On Loveland, Wall of Death prove themselves adept psychedelic rockers: they hit the right (which is to say, expected) notes, and do so with the skill of a practiced student. Unfortunately, for that reason, Loveland becomes the kind of album where the listener is mostly left thinking, “Hey, this reminds me of…” It’s one thing to tip your cap to those that came before you; it’s another thing to give them the mic.
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