In the words of Southern Lord, "Behold: the power of the riff."
What exactly is violent about rock and roll? The sonic is certainly heavier than most, sure, but "violent" is a misleading lexical choice. Sure, an especially loud concert might do significant violence to my eardrums, or a mosh pit might turn my face into a mess of black and blue, but rarely when I'm listening to heavy music on my stereo do I think, "Wow, I'm up for some spectacular violence." Aggression is undeniably an appeal of the genre, what with the ever-prevalent demand for low-end riffs and high-register soloing, but to amp the tag up to violence calls to my mind the darker recesses of rock and metal, not your average joe with a particularly good distortion pedal. Yet some groups prefer the word, as is the case with Southern Calfornia-based heshers the Shrine, who have adopted the phrase "psychedelic violence" to describe their artistic credo.
By the time Primitive Blast has finished, it's really only the latter of the two words that stands. Some minor elements of psychedelia are present -- a wah-wah pedal here, a hazy jam moment there -- but overall the trio's sound is best described, albeit not perfectly so, by "violence". If anything, the Shrine should have used "Primitive Blast" as a signpost. This is primordial, riff-heavy rock whose lineage traces all the way back to greats like Black Sabbath. Doom and stoner rock are also prevalent here, as made plain from the crunch of opener "Zipper Tripper". Though it may not be the most substantive album of its kind (these nine songs make a mere 32 minutes), it's another quality addition to the crop of stoner releases 2012 has seen, namely the ones from Tee Pee label mates Ancestors and Naam.
Tone, especially for the guitar, is key to the success of this debut. Guitarist Josh Landau knows how to play his rockish bases; though doom and stoner may be at the forefront, he also includes sounds that will satisfy fans of classic rock and blues rock. The six-minute closer "Deep River (Livin' to Die)" is a feast for anyone interested in guitar tones, and there will no doubt be many a keen ear to notice the use of Marshall stacks. The Shrine are so good at all this, in fact, that despite having only one release they've already made their own guitar pedal. Thus far, they aren't that distinctive of a band, but they sure know how to play the hell out of their instruments. The riffs here are tasty, even when they verge on the derivative; "Run the Night" modifies Aerosmith's "Shut Up and Dance" to a memorable effect. Equally good are their recording methods; reel-to-reel tape can make even the grungiest of recordings sound authentically raw, and it elevates this affair a notch above well-done jam session.
The trick with Primitive Blast is its length. Thirty-two minutes is both too long for an EP and too short for a full-length, a tricky line to straddle. For this reason the whole exercise feels like a really good introduction, as opposed to a bold statement of intent. To the trio's credit, there are reasons why a shorter run time would do a service to this type of music; riff rock is cool, but 45 to 50 minutes of it teeters over the edge of redundancy. For all the critical accolades the Black Keys' Brothers received, the thing was 55 minutes long, and a chunk of the material wasn't near as good as "Tighten Up" indicated the record would be. Still, most of Primitive Blast is pretty solid, and the skill on display makes one wonder what could have been had an extra ten minutes been added. Which is to say, this is a debut that leaves you wanting more; a young group in a growing genre couldn't ask for more than that.